New Jersey Legalizes Adult Use Of Recreational Marijuana

Voters in the state approved legal cannabis by a wide margin in November's election.

The Garden State is leafing out.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed legislation legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana in the state, making good on a ballot measure New Jersey voters passed by a wide margin in November.

In addition to legalizing adult-use and possession of up to 6 ounces of cannabis, the legislation also creates a regulated marketplace for its sale and restructures the penalties for underage marijuana use.

The question of how to handle minors in possession threatened to derail Murphy’s approval, which came just hours before the signing deadline.

State lawmakers initially proposed more severe criminal and civil penalties, but relented after Murphy expressed misgivings about the low-level offense disproportionately affecting people of color and unnecessarily funneling them into the criminal justice system.

Under the new rules, underage marijuana and alcohol use will be treated similarly, and will be subject to an escalating set of sanctions, starting with a written warning and ending with a referral to substance abuse counseling.

The law also bans police from searching underage individuals solely because they detect an odor of marijuana.

In an emailed statement, NORML, a marijuana policy advocacy group, called the development “long overdue,” noting that state and local police in New Jersey have filed more than 6,000 marijuana-related charges since voters there weighed in to legalize the drug.

“While we are pleased to see the will of New Jersey voters finally enshrined into approved legislation, it was a grotesque failure on the part of elected leadership that it took so long to do so,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “Despite nearly seven in ten New Jersey residents voting in favor of legalization on Election Day, it took lawmakers 111 days following that vote to achieve consensus to enact enabling legislation into law.”

An analysis of arrest statistics by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2020 found Black people in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana nearly three and a half times more often than their white counterparts, despite similar usage.

And in 2018, an analysis of national arrest data by NJ.com found police in the state conducted more marijuana-related arrests per capita than 48 other states; only Wyoming arrested more.