A Recreational Marijuana Legalization Amendment is on the November 3, 2020 Ballet in New Jersey, giving residents the power to decide whether a state constitutional amendment will be passed legalizing marijuana for persons 21 years and older.
After winning the Democratic primary in 2017, then-Governor-elect Phil Murphy stated, “The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana. And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.” New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) went further, stating that his goal was to pass Recreational Marijuana Legalization legislation within the first 100 days of Gov. Murphy’s term. While it has been three years since that goal was announced, the state legislature finally has the votes to propose an Amendment to Section VII of Article IV of the New Jersey Constitution, making recreational marijuana legal for people 21 years and older.
What Does the Recreational Marijuana Legislation Amendment Say?
In a nutshell, the proposed amendment would legalize marijuana “growth, cultivation, processing, manufacturing, preparing, packaging, transferring, and retail purchasing and consumption of cannabis, or products created from or which include cannabis, by persons 21 years of age or older.” Additionally, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which already oversees New Jersey’s current medical marijuana program, will be responsible for regulating the cultivation, sale, and processing of recreational marijuana within the state.
What Effect Will the Proposed Amendment Have?
In addition to making recreational usage, possession, cultivation, and the sale of marijuana legal for persons 21 years and older, proponents of Recreational Marijuana Legalization argue that tax revenue generated by the regulated sales of marijuana will boost the state’s economy, especially after getting hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. A report done by the New Jersey Policy Perspective suggests that New Jersey could benefit from an estimated $300 million in annual tax revenue from regulated marijuana sales. “For the economy — for the revenue side of this — Jersey needs to start getting in this game and start bringing some much-needed revenue in this state without Draconian cuts and without increasing new taxes on the populous,” lobbyist and attorney Bill Caruso said.
The NAACP, ACLU, and other groups support the amendment, arguing that Recreational Marijuana legalization would decrease the number of people jailed for drug possession. “The fact is that every week, roughly plus or minus 600 New Jerseyans—600—the majority of whom are persons of color, will be arrested for marijuana possession, will have a criminal record that will hurt their prospects for getting a job and education, housing, you name it,” Gov. Murphy said; something lobbyists and proponents hope to stop if the amendment passes.
Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, believes that “voting ‘yes’ for racial justice reasons becomes politically consequential in New Jersey.” Sinha’s organization reported that black residents are 3.5 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession or usage even though marijuana usage rates between the two groups are similar. “We have this opportunity right now to change politics as usual and to tell lawmakers and officials that the political machine, the New Jersey, that racial justice messaging works,” Sinha said.
In a September 30, 2020 tweet, Gov. Murphy stated, “It’s clear that marijuana prohibition is causing serious, lasting damage to our state. Now, we have an opportunity to fix that and finally legalize adult-use marijuana in NJ.”
What Happens if the Amendment Passes?
The proposed amendment would add Section 13 to Section VII of Article IV of the New Jersey Constitution. If passed, persons age 21 years and older may legally possess and use marijuana, as well as cultivate, process, and sell retail marijuana in the state.
If the amendment passes, it will take effect on January 1, 2021, making New Jersey the first Mid-Atlantic state pass Marijuana Legalization. However, that does not mean that legal marijuana sales can be made on January 1st. The state legislature must first draft and pass a law, creating regulations that would govern the new recreational marijuana industry. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission that would oversee recreational use as well as the current medical program.
Some proponents are hopeful that law passage will not take that long: If the proposed amendment is approved, and the legislature immediately passes a statute, “you could see sales in the third or fourth quarter of 2021,” said Caruso. “But there’s a lot of ifs and buts.”