New Jersey Finally Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

Home cultivation remains banned.


New Jersey officially became the 14th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana after Democratic Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed three bills into law this week.

New Jersey lawmakers have been struggling and failing to actually legalize recreational sales and use for years. Last year, lawmakers punted the matter to voters in a referendum. Those voters overwhelmingly said yes67 percent approved an amendment to the state constitution legalizing marijuana possession, cultivation, and use.

But that amendment still left lawmakers with the job of hammering out the actual laws controlling the marijuana marketplace. In the meantime, police were actually still citing people for marijuana possession despite the legalization proposition passing in November.

The new legislation will allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. It'll be months before retail sales actually start, and, of course, those sales will be heavily regulated and taxed. And unfortunately for New Jersey tokers with green thumbs, residents will not be permitted to grow their own.

A debate over how to deal with underage users contributed to the delay in getting the bills passed. Ultimately, pushed by Murphy, lawmakers agreed to smaller penalties for underage use, starting with a written warning, followed by recommendations to social service organizations, and then finally $50 citations for subsequent offenses.

The legislation also contains some notable criminal justice reforms. For example, it states that the smell of marijuana is not enough to constitute "reasonable articulable suspicion" to justify a police stop to determine if a suspect is violating the new marijuana laws. It also specifies that underage users will be cited, not arrested, and will not be photographed or fingerprinted. Records for underage marijuana violations will be maintained separately from other records and will be kept confidential. Essentially, to the extent that they'll be enforcing marijuana restrictions against those under 21, the state is trying to avoid a punitive approach that will affect a young person's future.

Meanwhile, the neighboring state of New York is still figuring out how or if it's going to legalize marijuana this year. Like New Jersey, the Empire State has been trying and failing for several years now to get a bill together that will earn the support of both lawmakers and the governor.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made legalization a priority this year, but his initial plan had some serious problems. Like New Jersey, it will still forbid New Yorkers to grow their own marijuana. In addition, it lacked a mechanism to allow for marijuana to be delivered. And, strangely, Cuomo's proposal actually increased the criminal penalties for anybody caught selling marijuana to anybody under 21.

Cuomo has now released some proposed amendments that will resolve some of the conflicts. One amendment calls for the state's regulatory agency to oversee licenses for delivery. A second amendment will keep penalties for underaged dealing as they are (a misdemeanor). Notably, Cuomo's plan does not include the automatic expungement of previous marijuana convictions.

Cuomo's amended plan still forbids home cultivation. However, Marijuana Moment notes that a bill proposed by lawmakers does allow for personal cultivation, so this is still a point of contention between lawmakers and the governor.