Cannabis plant in a pot

New Jersey legalises cannabis in painstaking three-bill process

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New Jersey has become the 15th United States jurisdiction to legalise cannabis, after a painstaking process that included three new bills.

Cannabis was officially legalised in New Jersey on Monday the 22nd of February, after the states Governor Phil Murphy signed three new bills into law. The bills included a legalisation measure (NJ A21), a decriminalisation bill (NJ A1897) and a third bill that outlines new penalties for underage cannabis use (NJ A5342/S3454). 

Cannabis legalisation has been on the cards for New Jersey for over three years now after Governer Murphy promised to legalise the drug during his 2017 election campaign. New Jersey citizens themselves are overwhelmingly supportive of cannabis legalisation, with a recent survey finding that 67% of voters support legalisation for people over the age of 21. 

Governor Phil Murphy presenting the new legislation
Governor Phil Murphy presenting the new legislation

However, disagreements among Democrat and Republican senators slowed the process of legalisation – a problem that was only exacerbated after a loophole was found in two bills in December. 

The legalisation bill originally gave “petty disorderly person” charges to cannabis users under 21, but the decriminalisation bill removed all penalties for underage cannabis users – effectively legalising cannabis for children. When the error was found, both bills had passed the Senate.

In response, the third “clean-up” bill was proposed before New Year. Under this bill, underage cannabis users will be given escalating warnings and counselling. The bill passed on Monday morning. 

After all this, Governor Murphy only signed the legalisation bills 20 minutes before the deadline.

The three bills are an important criminal justice milestone in the state, according to the Governor. 

There isn’t anyone who has supported these efforts who wouldn’t acknowledge this process has taken much longer than anticipated, but certainly it is better to get things done right rather than first.

Despite the new laws, it will be at least six months until New Jersey’s recreational cannabis market is fully operational. Under new provisions, the state will issue licenses to cannabis dispensaries in a process that will take months. 

Once the market is underway, New Jersey’s new cannabis industry is expected to generate $US126 million in revenue per year.

In the meantime, New Jersey citizens can legally possess up to six ounces of cannabis (170 grams). 

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