On Tuesday evening, New Jersey voters approved Public Question 1—ending a three-year effort to approve adult-use cannabis in the state. New Jersey was one of four states—along with Arizona, Montana and South Dakota—to approve an adult-use cannabis bill on election night November 3.
With 63 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 70 percent of voters approved the bill. Public Question 1 amends the state’s Constitution, and it will allow for possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational cannabis for adults 21 years of age and older.
But don’t expect recreational dispensaries on the corner of every New Jersey block just yet: New Jersey lawmakers must still pass a bill that will establish rules and regulations to govern the state’s new industry. Potential dispensary operators must undergo a rigorous licensing process. In addition, cultivation operations will need to be implemented to boost the state’s cannabis supply beyond its existing medical cannabis system, which already faces supply problems.
Keep in mind that other states on the East Coast took years to establish recreational dispensaries. In Maine, for instance, it took four years to get its program up and running.
After campaigning for several years, it’s a victory that wasn’t made without sacrifice.
“This is a great day for New Jersey. After years of political inaction, voters have definitively approved marijuana legalization,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, stated in a press release. “The passage of this ballot measure positions New Jersey to take the lead in the Northeast and will push neighboring states, like New York and Pennsylvania, to take action on marijuana legalization.”
How Social Justice Played a Role
New Jersey’s approach stood out compared to other states, because the state’s campaign to legalize recreational cannabis was centered on social justice by including provisions such as license opportunities for minorities and women.
Racial disparity in cannabis arrest rates is a continual problem in New Jersey. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a national report on race demographics in cannabis arrest data on April 20. The New Jersey-specific portion of the report found that Black people in New Jersey were arrested for cannabis at a rate 3.45 times higher than white New Jerseyans, despite similar rates of usage. That aligns with nationwide arrest rates that don’t add up.
“This is a victory for social justice given that Black residents of New Jersey are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white residents despite similar usage rates,” Hawkins added.
The effort was spearheaded by NJ CAN 2020—a coalition that gained support from the ACLU, NAACP, NORML and other associations.
How New Jersey Got Here
New Jersey’s medical cannabis law was originally signed back in 2010. The medical cannabis program, however, was riddled with numerous delays and setbacks as lawmakers were slow to establish a workable program. Some progress has been made over the last year, however. On June 3, 2019, the New Jersey Department of Health announced its intent to grant licenses to over 108 additional Alternative Treatment Centers.
New Jersey could have approved recreational cannabis several years ago, if cannabis advocates had their way. Back in 2017, Governor Phil Murphy campaigned with a vow to legalize cannabis within his first 100 days in office. That promise quickly dissolved, however, when the state Senate failed to pass legislation that was sponsored by Senator Nick Scutari. Governor Murphy was forced to withdraw that promise in March 2019.
Recreational cannabis was eventually voted to put it on the ballot for the people of New Jersey to decide.
“Legalization is the result of years of hard work from a diverse group of individuals and communities,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. “Senator Nick Scutari’s idea that used to generate snickers in the halls of Trenton when he first talked about it has finally become a reality.”
A vote to finalize New Jersey’s recreational cannabis could happen within a month.