On February 22, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills, all of which legalize adult use of cannabis in the state. A21 is the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act. A1897 is the accompanying decriminalization legislation, and A5342 fixes discrepancies between bills related to the possession of minors.
As early as November 2020, voters in New Jersey approved question 1 with an overwhelming majority by a margin of 66% to 33%. This electoral measure reached voters through legislature after New Jersey legislators failed to pass a legalization bill in 2019. The legislation that Governor Murphy signed yesterday essentially enacted the will of the electorate.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
The legislation goes into effect immediately when the governor signs the bills, but New Jersey residents won’t see the legal use of cannabis by adults until June 2021, the deadline for the five-person cannabis regulatory commission to lay down detailed regulations. Also, possession of cannabis is not legal until it is sold.
The license application window opens 30 days before the statutory deadline. The legislation provides licenses in laboratories for cultivation, manufacture, wholesale, distribution, retail, supply and testing. Cultivator licenses are limited to 37 until 2023. 25% of all licenses are for micro-businesses that are locally owned and employ fewer than ten people.
According to New Jersey-based cannabis attorney Jennifer Cabrera of Vicente Sederberg LLP, the bills include a number of provisions aimed at promoting social justice in the cannabis industry and repairing damage caused by prohibitions. The language dictates that 30% of licenses must go to companies owned by women, minorities, or disabled veterans. At least 25% should be assigned to residents of impact zones that are communities with more than 120,000 residents who: make up 40% of the state’s communities for cannabis-related arrests; have a crime index of 825 or higher; and have a local average annual unemployment rate that ranks in the top 15% of communities.
The Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey
Lawyers across the state applaud the government’s work in incorporating social justice provisions into bills. States like Illinois and Massachusetts initially received a lot of praise for including a number of social justice provisions in their legalization plans, but the rollout left much to be desired. Social justice applicants in Illinois are still waiting to be licensed as lawsuits pending trial for corruption allegations and ineffective distribution.
However, it looks like New Jersey is being far more thorough on social justice issues than any other state. “New Jersey passed some of the toughest social justice regulations we’ve ever seen,” says Cabrera. “Considering these issues at the beginning of the process will likely prove to be of great benefit to the state. It is much easier to incorporate these considerations into the system than it is to include them again later. “In other words, there is still a lot to be done to create a fair legal framework.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New Jersey, says the laws of the state can set a new standard for what justice looks like. “This is a new beginning – and the culmination of years of legal practice – and we have to remember that this is just the beginning,” Sinha says. “The signing of these laws sets the next stage in that effort in motion: to work tirelessly to translate the principles of legalization in New Jersey into more racial and social justice.”
It is estimated that New Jersey’s adult cannabis market could be worth more than a billion dollars. As the state begins its rollout and implementation, all eyes are on New York and Pennsylvania, which are expected to legalize adult cannabis use within the next two years. Both New York Governor Cuomo and Pennsylvania Governor Wolf have been calling for adult use to be legalized in recent months.