The fight for Jersey to legalize cannabis has been a long, convoluted one. During the last election, people voted to legalize marijuana within New Jersey.

Lawmakers were supposed to vote on a bill to regulate marijuana sales and usage on Monday, the 11th of January. Governor Phil Murphy and lawmakers initially appeared to have a deal on a cleanup bill. This has now collapsed, creating ambiguity and halting progress for legalization. 

Cannabis Legalization in New Jersey

In late November 2020, in a significant development for cannabis legalization, New Jersey voted to amend the state constitution and legalize recreational marijuana. In mid-December, New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill that would enable them to regulate the sale and use of cannabis.

The NJ adult-use bill left much to be desired in terms of equity.  While state constitutional amendment went into effect on the 1st of January, the movement of the bill has been stalled once again, leading to ambiguity surrounding the legality of marijuana usage, particularly as arrests continue. This time, the roadblock to legalization stems from disagreement surrounding the issue of penalties for minors. 

The Cleanup Bill   

The major point of contention for the bill’s collapse was the issue of penalties for those under the age of 21. 

The new cleanup bill faced heavy critique due to harsh penalties for minors: 

  • People between the ages of 18 and 20 in possession of cannabis at school, in a motor vehicle or public space will be fined between $20 and $250.
  • A person between the ages of 18 and 20 in possession of cannabis and knowingly consumed the drug at school, in a motor vehicle or public space will be fined between $100 and $500. 
  • Minors under the age of 18 in possession of cannabis would not be subject to this penalty. Instead they would receive a curbside warning, “stationhouse adjustment” or forced to go to alcohol or drug abuse treatment programs. 

Governor Phil Murphy’s Stance

While Governor Murphy supports legalization, he is steadfast in enforcing strict penalties in order to deter cannabis usage for those under 21. Lawmakers objected to these provisions because they argued these provisions would disproportionately affect Black youth. 

He has until February to come to an agreement and sign the bills. It is now up to Governor Murphy to work out the differences and sign the bills to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. 

If you’re wondering why you voted yes but your voice hasn’t fully been heard, it’s because lawmakers face a challenging task in balancing various interests particularly when it comes to underage use and possession.

While lawmakers debate the nuances of the bill, the status of cannabis is now in limbo; marijuana remains technically illegal, and individuals can still face ramifications for the possession and consumption of marijuana