Good News: New Jersey Legalized Marijuana Last Night

Your next Shore vacation just got a lot more … mellow.

new jersey legalize marijuana

Last night, New Jersey voted to legalize marijuana. Photograph by Edwin Remsberg/Getty Images

While the outcome of the presidential race remains uncertain, we know one thing for sure: Weed is legal in New Jersey. Last night, residents overwhelmingly voted to amend the state constitution to legalize recreational marijuana for those aged 21 and older. They have company: Voters in Arizona, Montana and South Dakota also legalized recreational use, while Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of heroin and cocaine.

In 2019, despite widespread support and the backing of Governor Phil Murphy, the New Jersey legislature failed to pass a legalization bill and decided to put an amendment to a public vote. As of this morning, well over two-thirds of voters there have responded “yes” to the question, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”

This isn’t surprising. Legalization advocates raised $2 million for their cause, while opponents only raised about $10,000. Murphy and legalization group NJ CAN 2020 campaigned on social justice issues, citing, among other rationales, the fact that law enforcement in the state arrests about 100 people per day — a disproportionate number of them Black — on marijuana-related charges.

Axel Owen, campaign manager for NJ CAN 2020, told the Inquirer: “New Jersey voters have mandated an end to cannabis prohibition, and they have voiced their support for building an equitable, just market in place of unfair and outdated drug laws.”

The state’s well-loved, if at times sardonic, official Twitter account, @NJGov, put it bluntly: “JERZ.”

The amendment will take effect January 1st, but the legislature still needs to write a bill outlining rules and regulations for the industry—such as the specific dates we can expect weed to be commercially available and the requirements for dispensary license applicants. The ballot measure did allow for a state tax rate of 6.625 percent and for municipalities to charge an additional two percent tax. Until the state passes a bill decriminalizing possession, police can still arrest residents on marijuana charges before the January 1st effective date. Currently, the state allows people with certain previous marijuana-related convictions to get their records expunged, even as new arrests are made daily. Each year, the state spends $143 million on possession arrests.

It could take weeks or months for the state to establish a recreational cannabis industry. In the past, states have taken as long as a year to open their first dispensaries. This process will likely be lengthy and complicated: New Jersey is expected to have one of the largest marijuana markets in the country. What’s more, sellers in the state have already had difficulty meeting demand for medical marijuana.

Starting January 1st, Philadelphians can drive across the bridge and legally partake. Legislators will likely give medicinal dispensaries the green light to sell recreational weed by that time (though those dispensaries will likely face major supply shortfalls), and residents will be able to grow their own plants, though dispensaries for recreational weed won’t yet be operational. But bringing the stuff back to Pennsylvania is verboten: Because marijuana is still prohibited at the federal level, it’s illegal to carry marijuana across state lines, even in instances where the state to which you’re traveling has also legalized recreational use.

Pennsylvanians may not have to wait long. Experts expect that this legalization in New Jersey will ramp up pressure on Pennsylvania and New York to pass their own legalization initiatives. Tom Wolf has renewed his annual call for legalization to the state assembly, and lawmakers, facing a debt of $47 billion and a daunting coronavirus-driven deficit while New Jersey sees much as $126 million in annual cannabis tax revenue, will be eager to tap into the ever-growing marijuana market.