Marijuana Officially Legal In New Jersey

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On Monday, February 22, 2021, New Jersey became the fourteenth state to make cannabis legal when Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills into law that decriminalize marijuana and create a pathway for the legal recreational cannabis market. This comes on the heels of a statewide vote last year where New Jersey residents overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Despite the passage of the ballot measure and its January 1st effective date, the drug remained illegal until Governor Murphy’s action to officially sign into law what New Jersey residents had long been waiting for. While it is now legal to consume marijuana in New Jersey, it may take months until we see recreational cannabis dispensaries throughout the state as the process of regulating the sale of the drug now begins in earnest.

Possession Of Up To Six Ounces Now Legal

The new law allows that any adult who is 21 years or older may legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana. The law also establishes the framework for the legal purchase of marijuana at state-approved dispensaries. Still, it may be some time before you can physically walk into a recreational cannabis dispensary to purchase the drug. Criminal penalties will still exist for the manufacture and distribution of marijuana outside of state-licensed retailers and growers. A major point of contention amongst legislators was how underage consumption and possession of marijuana is to be treated under the new legal framework. Lawmakers settled on a tiered warning system similar to the underage alcohol laws where the most serious offense will result in a referral to a community-based substance abuse educational course.

Decriminalization At Forefront Of Law

The journey toward the legalization of marijuana began as a social justice movement. Black residents are 3.5 times more likely than whites to be charged with a marijuana offense, so legalization advocates have long pursued a change in the law that acknowledges this disparity.

U.S. Senator, and former presidential candidate, Corey Booker, remarked on Monday that, “The failed War on Drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, disproportionately impacting black and brown communities and hurting families in New Jersey and across our nation. Today is a historic day.”

Social justice advocates campaigned for a tax structure that would seek to rehabilitate communities most negatively affected by marijuana prohibition and criminalization. The result was a unique tax structure that directs a significant portion of recreational marijuana tax revenue to areas hardest hit by criminalization. Once legal recreational marijuana sales begin, the revenue generated from the dispensaries will be taxed to provide assistance to impact zones. These zones are areas where previous marijuana laws were most vigorously enforced.

Regulation And Licensing Now Begins

While the bills signed into law on Monday usher in a new era, the road to legally purchasing marijuana in New Jersey remains murky, as regulation and licensing will take some time to implement. Notably, Gov. Murphy made three appointments on Monday to the regulatory body that will oversee legal marijuana in New Jersey. These appointees will now begin the long process of constructing the framework of licensing and regulation for legal marijuana. This process is expected to take months, if not a full year, before New Jersey residents will be able to walk into a dispensary and legally purchase marijuana.

Marijuana Business Lawyers

If you are thinking of entering the marijuana industry, it is a good idea to consult with a marijuana attorney who can guide you through this process. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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