More than three years after he took office with hopes of legalizing marijuana in 100 days, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills that together launch a marijuana industry in New Jersey and put an end to thousands of arrests. But it took more than a marijuana-friendly governor to make reform a reality.
Murphy signed the bills Monday morning without the usual fanfare, putting his pen to paper just before the deadline to take action struck. If he had done nothing, two measures seeking to launch a legal marijuana industry and to end arrests would have become law without his signature.
Lawmakers extended the deadline for Murphy to sign the bills by more than two weeks and the lengthy, sometimes tense, negotiations continued. They finally proved fruitful Monday morning. Murphy acknowledged that “This process may have had its fits and starts, but it is ending in the right place. And, I firmly believe, this process has ended in laws that will serve as a national model,” he said.
“This is a new beginning — and the culmination of years of advocacy — and we must keep in mind that it is only the start,” Amol Sinha, executive director for the ACLU of New Jersey, said in a statement. “Signing these laws puts in motion the next phase of this effort: to work relentlessly to transform the principles of legalization into greater racial and social justice in New Jersey.”
Those looking to legally buy marijuana in New Jersey will have to keep waiting: The state will need to license new dispensaries to meet the public need.
New Jersey has 13 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, and current companies expect to open more this spring.
Murphy said the legal marijuana marketplace would begin forming in the coming months. He will still have to fully seat the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the marijuana industry, which has six months to set up its rules and regulations before it seeks new licensees for businesses.
While marijuana consumers will not have legal avenues to purchase it yet, arrests for thousands of possession cases should begin to cease. The decriminalization law allows people to possess up to six ounces of marijuana without legal consequence. But the new law on underage penalties for using marijuana also bars police from stopping young people if they smell marijuana, and allows them to only give out warnings to young people.
“We can get down to the business of establishing a responsible, sustainable, profitable and diverse adult-use and expanded medical cannabis market in New Jersey,” Edmund DeVeaux, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said in a statement. “Now the real work can begin.”