After voters decided to make New Jersey the 12th state to legalize last fall, recreational marijuana use is finally on the horizon.
On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills that together legalized and decriminalized marijuana in the state.
“As of this moment, New Jersey’s broken and indefensible marijuana laws which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, and which disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise — are no more,” he said after signing the legislation into law.
The bills faced multiple hurdles as officials came up against the deadline to make legalization a reality — the latest being Murphy’s indication that he would not sign the bill into law unless it included penalties for underage marijuana use.
According to NJ.com, the signatures followed a last minute vote in the Senate and Assembly on Monday morning that would establish penalties for people under 21 caught with marijuana. Murphy waited more than two months to sign the bills, during which time more than 2,000 charges were issued for minor marijuana possession.
It will still be a while until residents can get in line to buy, since the state needs to license new dispensaries to sell. Sales could launch in late 2021 or later. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has six months to establish rules and regulations before even seeking new licenses for businesses.
In the meantime, arrests for minor possessions are expected to cease. The decriminalization bill legalizes possession of up to six ounces of marijuana without penalty. The bill related to underage penalties also prevents police from stopping young people if they smell marijuana and only allow them to issue warnings to minors. If cops wrongfully detain a person they can also be charged with “deprivation of civil rights.”
“Starting immediately, those who had been subject to an arrest for petty marijuana possession — an arrest that may have kept them from a job or the opportunity to further their education — will be able to get relief and move forward,” Murphy said.