Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Monday legalizing cannabis for adults, delivering on an initial campaign promise that had led to years of intraparty disagreements.
“There isn’t anyone who has supported these efforts who wouldn’t acknowledge this process has taken much longer than anticipated,” Murphy said during a press conference Monday. “But certainly it is better to get things done right than fast,” he added, acknowledging the Democratic lawmakers who continued to work to pass the law even when progress slowed.
The new law decriminalizes the possession of up to six ounces of the drug and changes how police officers interact with minors caught found to have it in their possession. But even though Democratic leaders in the state’s government and 67% of New Jerseyans supported legalization, disagreements between Murphy and leaders of the black and Latino legislative caucuses over how to penalize minors caught with cannabis almost torpedoed the new legislation.
New Jersey’s broken & indefensible marijuana laws are no more.
Today, I signed historic legislation to:
✅Legalize adult-use cannabis
✅Decriminalize marijuana possession in small amounts
✅Limit the use of previous marijuana convictions
✅Create a regulated cannabis marketplace pic.twitter.com/Y2pCKSgcn5
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) February 22, 2021
Legalization came after Murphy signed three separate bills; the first two – a legalization measure and a decriminalization bill – were passed by the New Jersey legislature and sent to his desk in December.
Under the legalization bill, people 21 and younger caught with less than one ounce of cannabis would be charged with a misdemeanor disorderly persons offense. The decriminalization bill, however, removed penalties for underage offenders caught with marijuana, creating disagreement over how each term was defined.
The legislature passed the third bill Monday addressing penalties for underage offenders, and following its passage, Murphy signed all three into law.
While the decriminalization laws will take effect immediately, Murphy said, legalization may take up to six months since the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission must develop rules outlining dispensary and cultivation licenses.