The New Jersey legislature voted to legalize the sale of marijuana on Thursday in a move making New Jersey the first state in the region to legalize the drug.
The New Jersey legislature voted to approve the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (S21). The vote is in line with the majority of New Jersey electors voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. S21 legalizes the use of marijuana for certain people, decriminalizes possession of small quantities of marijuana and removes marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Given that S21 regulates marijuana similarly to how alcohol is regulated, only persons aged 21 and older could use and buy marijuana.
According to the text of S21, it serves to eliminate the illegal market for marijuana that currently exists in New Jersey by “divert[ing] funds from marijuana sales from going to illegal enterprises, gangs, and cartels” to legal sellers. Regulating marijuana sales is intended to prevent minors from using marijuana and prevent “laced” versions of the drug from permeating the New Jersey market.
Moreover, by decriminalizing possession of marijuana the legislature hopes that criminal justice resources can be moved to “serious criminal activities and public safety issues.” It also hopes to prevent the negative effects on housing and employment that cannabis arrests create.
S21 will be particularly helpful to the black community given that, as S21 highlights, in New Jersey, Black persons are three times more likely than white persons to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In a statement, assemblyman Jamal Holley commented:
The New Jersey Legislature has delivered the most progressive legislation in the nation regarding marijuana legalization, incorporating critical components of social justice and social equity that communities of color and others have been demanding for years. This is a defining moment in the history of our state, as we finally put an end to a failed “War on Drugs” that has shattered the lives of many, forced into lengthy, senseless incarceration.
Although the New Jersey legislature has passed S21, it must next be approved by Governor Murphy before coming into force.
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