By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor
SOUTH JERSEY — Three-and-a-half months ago, New Jerseyans overwhelmingly voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Today, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation into law that makes the drug legal.
Gov. Murphy’s legislation makes it legal for adults over the age of 21 years old to use marijuana. The legislation will also regulate cannabis use in the state and decriminalize it for those 21 years of age and older. Marijuana is still illegal for underage individuals, and Gov. Murphy’s legislation also clarified the legal penalties for that age group.
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible,” Gov. Murphy said in a press release. “This November, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of creating a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model.”
Since New Jersey voters chose to legalize marijuana on November 3, the state has created the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will regulate its legal marijuana marketplace. The CRC will regulate both medical and recreational marijuana, and it’ll oversee the licensing for businesses to sell the drug.
In addition to legalizing marijuana, Gov. Murphy’s new legislation provides relief for community members currently facing marijuana charges. Lower-level charges of distribution and possession can no longer be used in parole, probation, and pretrial release scenarios. The legislation also provides “certain protections” against marijuana-discrimination in employment, housing, and other places of public accommodation.
According to NJ.com, the state filed 6,000 marijuana arrests in between November 3 and February 14.
“This legislation will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities, while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters,” Gov. Murphy addedin a release. “Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history. I’d like to thank the Legislature, advocates, faith leaders, and community leaders for their dedicated work and partnership on this critical issue.”
Gov. Murphy promised that marijuana would be legal within his first 100 days in office. Although he didn’t accomplish that goal, Monday’s legislation being signed into law fulfills a long-kept promise by the head of New Jersey’s government.
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