Overcoming Months-Long Legislative Deadlock, New Jersey Governor Signs Bills Legalizing Cannabis

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On February 22, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed three separate bills (A21, A1897 and A5342) legalizing adult-use cannabis and creating a regulated adult-use cannabis market in New Jersey. The governor signed the legislation after months of back and forth — heated at times — between legislators and the governor over how the adult-use cannabis legislation should handle underage cannabis use and possession. Indeed, as late as last week, it appeared as if the governor would veto the bills, indefinitely delaying legislation that was originally expected to be enacted no later than early January. However, a key state Senate committee then advanced a “clean up” bill that satisfied the governor’s demand for penalties for underage cannabis use. The “clean up” bill consolidates underage cannabis possession with underage alcohol possession, subjecting both, in the first instance, to a small civil penalty and/or written warning.

In a statement that accompanied yesterday’s signing, the governor acknowledged the unexpected delays but called the legislation “historic” and a “national model” for other states that would “reduce racial disparities” in New Jersey’s criminal justice system “while building a promising new industry.”

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