Gov. Murphy signs three bills ending cannabis prohibition in N.J.
Last update: March 3, 2021
On February 22, 2021, Gov. Murphy signed three bills related to cannabis legalization, ending a three-year campaign to regulate and tax cannabis in the Garden State. In November 2020, New Jerseyans overwhelming approved a ballot referendum supporting cannabis legalization. The following month, the legislature responded with the passage of S.21 and S.2535. However, both measures stalled due to concerns surrounding penalties for underage use.
On February 19, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced A.5342, which addresses penalties for underage use. On February 22, 2021, both chambers voted to approve A.5342, and Gov. Murphy immediately signed all three bills into law. You can check out a summary of the bills here.
Although Gov. Murphy’s signature means the end of arrests and prosecution for cannabis in New Jersey, it will likely take a few months before residents are able to purchase cannabis from retailers as the recently formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission develops rules for adult-use licenses.
N.J. Senate and Assembly advance legalization regulatory bill
On December 17, 2020, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly approved bills that would legalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis and create the regulatory structure for adult-use sales. The Assembly passed S.21/A.21, “The NJ Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act” in a 49-24 vote with six abstentions. The Senate passed the measure in a 23-17 vote with no abstentions.
A constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis was approved by nearly two-thirds of New Jersey voters on Election Day and took effect on January 1, 2021. However, the amendment only allowed for legalization of a regulated market, which meant possession of cannabis remained illegal until Gov. Phil Murphy signed the enabling legislation.
Under the negotiated version of S.21/A.21, the number of cultivation licenses would be capped at 37 for the first 24 months after the bill’s enactment. Facilities with 2,500 square feet or less and fewer than 1,000 plants are not included in the cap. The sales tax revenue would be divided up, with 70 percent going to social justice programs and 30 percent being used to support the work of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission and for enforcement personnel training and equipment for drug recognition experts. Meanwhile, all cultivation excise fees would go to a social equity fund that would be directed to social justice reforms in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The excise fee, which could be imposed by the newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission nine months after the first recreational cannabis sales, is structured to rise as the average price of cannabis falls. The maximum excise fee would be up to $50 per ounce when retail prices fall below $200 per ounce. In addition to the fee, cannabis is subject to a standard 6.625% statewide sales tax, plus local option taxes of up to 2% on all sales from cannabis establishments.
Also on December 17, 2020, the Assembly passed an amended version of A.1897/4269. Under the amended bill, up to six ounces of cannabis and 170 grams of hashish could be possessed legally with no associated criminal or civil penalties. The bill removes penalties for use or possession for people currently on parole or probation. It also eliminates the odor of cannabis as a basis to initiate a search of a person and removes cannabis-related offenses from consideration in pretrial release and detention. The Senate passed the measure in November 2020 in a 29-4 vote with no abstentions.
Medical cannabis program expanded
On June 2, 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed A20, also known as Jake’s Law — named after Jake Honig, a pediatric patient who used medical cannabis during his battle with cancer. The law institutes many much needed reforms to the medical cannabis program, including:
expanding qualifying conditions, including by adding chronic pain;
providing anti-discrimination protections, including related to education, rental housing, professional licensing, and employment;
expanding access, including by increasing the number of cultivators, retailers, and manufacturers; and
allowing home delivery.
A more detailed summary of the changes can be found here.