By Paige Fanneron, News Editor
This year’s election was historic for many reasons. Along with a new president, New Jersey voted to legalize the use of marijuana, commonly known as weed, for those over the age of 21. However, while the voters of New Jersey have spoken, marijuana will not be made legally available to consumers until state legislation sets the rules and regulations of legalization and the bills are signed into law by the governor. Gov. Phil Murphy took to Twitter after the election to say that the legalization of marijuana is a “critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system.”
Moving quickly towards Murphy’s signature, there are two bills that are currently pending.
One bill, regarding the decriminalization of weed, would have all pending charges for possession of marijuana dropped and would allow for adults to carry up to six ounces of weed on them. This bill also allows for possible expunging of all previous convictions of marijuana possession.
The second bill concerns the selling of marijuana. A maximum of 37 cultivators will be issued licenses to sell, but this cap will expire in two years. Vendors do not have a limit on the amount of outlets being run at once as long as they are approved by the town. There would be a 6.625% sales tax, 70% of which will be going to a social equality fund. The other 30% will go towards police training on how to deal with marijuana DUIs. Eventually, legislators will roll out a social equality tax that gives its revenue to impact zones whose populations have been most affected by possession enforcement.
State lawmakers have proposed another bill which would put in place a fine of $50 to $250 for people who are between the ages of 18 and 20 and are carrying up to six ounces of marijuana, which is the proposed legal limit on possession for anyone aged 21 or older. If a person between the ages of 18 and 20 is carrying more than six ounces, they can be fined up to $500. People under the age of 18 who are caught in possession of marijuana will not have to pay the fine but may face juvenile delinquency dispositions like community service. Murphy’s office has said that he will not sign a bill until lawmakers add non-criminal penalties that discourage underage usage.
The legalization of marijuana is expected to have multiple positive impacts on life in New Jersey. One such benefit is its potential to create about 35,000 jobs for New Jersey citizens. Beau Whitney, an economist, told the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) that the state can expect about $125 million in revenue per year. Whitney also said that in other states that have legalized marijuana, there has been a decrease in healthcare costs, specifically for painkillers.
Whitney added that this allows police to prioritize and refocus on more addictive or dangerous drugs. He also pointed out that studies show that black Americans are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in states where cannabis is illegal.
However, debate over legalization in New Jersey continued for many years because of the concerns over some of the less appealing side-effects that could potentially arise from its implementation. According to the NJBIA, Kevin Sabet, a drug expert and president of the non-profit, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, noted that many other states that have legalized marijuana have had an increase in rates of impaired driving, drug use in the workplace and many other health and safety issues. In Washington state there has been an 86% increase in positive workplace drug tests, as well as a 63% increase in positive tests in Colorado. According to Sabet, there have been some construction companies in Colorado and Nevada that have had to hire out-of-state citizens because too many in-state citizens have failed the pre-employment drug test due to cannabis use.
There is no official date when marijuana usage will be legal in New Jersey, but as the members of the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate pushed all three pieces of legislature towards Murphy’s desk, the state is on track to join many others in legalizing weed.
Designed By Jared Garelick