In a spate of signings, New Jersey decriminalizes recreational marijuana and set up a recreational marijuana marketplace. The state also loosened penalties for underage possession of marijuana and alcohol. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed these directives into law Monday. During the last elections, NJ citizens overwhelmingly voted for approval for marijuana legalization.
Easing Up On Underage Possession
In order to get the governor to sign on the marijuana legislation, the Democrat-led Assembly and Senate passed the measure to ease penalties for underage possession of alcohol and marijuana. Murphy faced a deadline to act on the December measures. He declared backing the measures during the elections but stated concerns about underage arrests. The state needed decriminalization laws as state law continues to recognize possession as a criminal act. Previously, the governor championed the cause of undoing the effects of the war on drugs in black communities. Murphy didn’t fully explain his reasons for delaying the signing. But, he said that wants to make sure young people don’t get caught in the criminal justice system.
The new legislation subjects underage possession of alcohol and marijuana to written warnings. The warnings escalate will come with parental notification and community services referrals in cases of repeated violations. Also, part of the new law removes towns’ abilities to enact ordinances with civil penalties for underage possession or consumption violations on private property. At present, underage drinking is punishable by six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The new law is part of the November ballot question amending the constitution to permit recreational cannabis for residents 21 and over. Voters approved the measure 2 to 1. Meanwhile, some New Jersey Republicans felt the reduction in penalties is wrong. “There’s no consequence. We’re now saying if you’re caught with it underage it’s a free pass,” said state Senator Bob Singer. Sponsor Senator Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat municipal prosecutor, doesn’t believe the new law will keep young people, let alone black teenagers, out of the criminal justice system. Black residents are three times more likely to face marijuana charges than white residents.
The delay in signing sparked widespread frustration among supporters. “This process has been a debacle from the beginning. The voters did their job,” Democratic Senator Paul Sarlo complained. Also, Sarlo opposed marijuana legalization but supported moves for decriminalization. He voted in favor of the measure because he wants lawmakers to move on and focus on Covid-19 relief. Edmund DeVeaux, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said “Enough already,” referring to the delay in enacting. “Only in New Jersey could the will of the voters be so callously ignored,” he added.
As New Jersey decriminalizes marijuana, the state will also get to earn more income. Under the bill, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will levy an excise tax for all sales. This means total taxes will depend on the cost per ounce of cannabis, and there four levels of tax under the bill. For example, if the price of cannabis is $350 or more, the tax per ounce is $10. The tax increases to $60 per ounce if the item is less than $250. Sales in the marketplace legalization bill will include the state’s 6.625 percent sales tax. 70% of proceeds will go to areas affected by marijuana-related arrests. Towns can also add a tax of up to 2%.
The number of licenses for cultivators will stay at 37 for two years. While the State Senate wanted an unlimited number of cultivators. However, the state Assembly insisted on placing a cap.
Watch the Bloomberg QuickTake New reporting that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signs bills that legalize recreational marijuana:
Do you agree with New Jersey’s decision to decriminalize recreational marijuana? Also, do you support the establishment of a marijuana marketplace to regulate buying and selling? Let us know what you think about New Jersey’s moves. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.