Can New Jersey’s Slow Start to Cannabis Legalization Recover?

new jersey cannabis legalization

Is recreational weed legal in New Jersey? Despite the recent bill NJ Governor, Phil Murphy signed to finally legalize cannabis in New Jersey and put an end to arrests for possession, some say it’s long overdue. The main position from his 2017 campaign for governor included committing to sign any cannabis legalization that ended up on his desk. And, while Governor Murphy deserved an A for effort, it is now 2021, a year into cannabis being deemed an essential business, and the most densely populated state in the US still doesn’t have adequate decriminalization measures in place. New Jersey cannabis legalization still has a long way to go.

That’s not to say that NJ isn’t launching a needed expungement program, because they are and it sounds great. Upon digging further, though, and keeping in mind their expungement program, one may notice the conundrum. Officers are still arresting people with cannabis. Does that or does that not create a pipeline of people needing expungements? For a state second in the nation for people incarcerated for cannabis, maybe we could be doing better.  

Jersey Cannabis Advocates Never Gave Up

Constituents and consumers alike have shown unwavering support for New Jersey cannabis legalization; however it’s taken patients, advocates and lobbyists years to finally get an acceptable legislative bill onto the governor’s desk. The catch, however, according to journalist Amanda Hoover from NJ Advance Media for — “it hasn’t worked yet”. 

Hands full of bills, dozens of lawmakers and activists, hours of public testimony given and nearly 3 million voters in favor of legalizing weed later, residents of the Garden State may finally have something to look forward to after Governor Murphy’s February 22nd vote to approve New Jersey cannabis regulatory, enforcement assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act or “CREAMMA,” which moves the state one step closer to full implementation of recreational marijuana and also permits personal use cannabis for certain adults.

Yet, many still wonder what happened to Governor Murphy pledging to sign cannabis legislation if it made it to his desk. Those words were proclaimed repeatedly on his campaign trail back in 2017, and yet New Jersey patients watched as state by state across the U.S legalized cannabis, while New Jersey has waited in political limbo. 

It’s Not All Bad, Though

It’s just taken them a long time. Thanks to the guidance and teamwork of fellow constituents Senators Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson and Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who said We are offering a comprehensive expungement plan that builds on the proposal offered by Governor Murphy so that we can make reforms that will produce more fairness in the criminal justice system,” in a 2019 statement. However now, just 2 years later, it seems that NJ lawmakers, policymakers and residents are finally onto a greener, more equitable path to cannabis decriminalization, diversity and inclusion and necessary expungement and fine return initiatives. 

Can NJ Cannabis Reform Influence Other Eastern States?

CannaCon asked Jackie Cornell, NJ resident and Chief of Policy and Health Innovations at 1906 New Highs Cannabis her thoughts on the potential influence NJ can have on the rest of the coast moving towards more equitable legalization measures. Here’s what she had to say:

“Implementation is the name of the game now in New Jersey. How quickly and nimbly can the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) move to set up our adult-use market will determine if NJ or NY dictate the tone for the rest of the East Coast”

If only Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida could see the light, we’d be talking. Some even hypothesize that once NJ launches their cannabis market, the impact will flood down throughout the southwest of the east coast. There’s just one state in the way. The annoying younger brother of Virginia, of sorts. Because North Carolina remains an anomaly. Possession, manufacturing or distributing cannabis is illegal, including with a medical note for most qualifying conditions. Residents found with less than 1.5 ounces will get a fine of $200, while those in possession of 1.5 ounces or more get felony charges, a 1k fine, plus 3-months in jail! So, while North Carolina claims to have “mostly decriminalized marijuana”, it seems the threads of systemic and institutionalized racism are still in the fabric there. 

Fact: Of the more than 56k people serving in North Carolina prisons or barred from voting due to their convictions, 42% are Black. Alarming enough, but to many that number becomes infuriating when we account that Blacks make up only 22% of the entire state’s population. 

A Look Ahead, East Coast Style

With the regulated cannabis market expected to reach sales into the billions by 2025, states like California, Colorado Oregon, Nevada and even more conservative states like Oklahoma realized the positive impacts revenue from regulated cannabis tax could have and they went for it!

So it’s no wonder that Tri-State states like New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and other East Coast states finally began to see through the fog of propaganda to the financial, social and economical benefits “medical” and “adult-use” cannabis legalization can have on their communities. 

Is Recreational Weed Legal in New Jersey?

If we’ve learned anything in cannabis, especially looking at the Los Angeles regulated market roadmap, we see that words and commitments only get us so far. Regulated states need programming, oversight committees, sustainable production and packaging regulations, ethical licensing practices and most of all:  to release every single person incarcerated for a marijuana conviction. Period. Many reports unveil that in the four years since the 2017 candidate for New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy won, largely due to his campaign which included a commitment to sign New Jersey cannabis legalization that ends up on his desk, not enough has happened! So, is recreational weed legal in New Jersey? Not quite yet. While Governor Murphy may deserve an A for effort, it’s now 2021 and the most densely populated state in the United States doesn’t have decriminalization measures in place. 

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