Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash

New Jersey is now the thirteenth and largest state to legalize recreational marijuana. After three years of failed legislative attempts, tax negotiations, and protracted legal battles, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills that legalize up to six ounces of recreational pot.

RELATED: Virginia General Assembly Votes to Legalize Marijuana

The New Jersey state legislature approved the bills on Feb. 22, and Gov. Murphy signed off on them later that day. The legislation calls to set up a recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalize cannabis and loosen penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol.

The gov.’s office sent out a press release saying: 

“The legislation further provides for the Legislature to reinvest cannabis revenues in designated “impact zones”; directs the CRC to promote diversity and inclusion in business ownership; and contains critical employment protections for people who engage in lawful behavior with respect to cannabis.”

The bill will replace arrests and fines for marijuana smokers under 21, with verbal warnings and referrals to community programs, like drug education or treatment. 

Gov. Murphy had promised to legalize marijuana in the first 100 days after he was elected, which was three years ago. He acknowledged that the process of legalizing the drug took longer than anticipated. 

“This process may have had its fits and starts, but it is ending in the right place. And, I firmly believe, this process has ended in-laws that will serve as a national model,” Murphy said,

Over three months ago, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize adult use of the drug. The governor was hard-pressed to legalize the drug in December but spent the past months deliberating specifics of the bill.

His legislation had to work out tax revenue, licensing rules, and what the penalties would be for people under 21 caught with marijuana. 

Murphy also raised concerns about young people of color still facing arrest, contradicting his goal of undoing the effects of the war on drugs in Black communities.

Starting Feb. 22, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has six months to enact its rules and regulations before it will begin accepting new licensees for recreational businesses. In that time frame, anybody who is caught using marijuana illegally will likely not face charges. 

“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.

Written ByHaley Weger

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