New Jersey governor signs laws to legalize marijuana use, decriminalize possession

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law legislation setting up a recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalizing cannabis and loosening penalties for possession.
TRENTON, N.J. — Legislation to set up a recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalize cannabis and loosen penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol was signed into law Monday by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, more than three months after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize adult use of the drug.

The Democrat-led Assembly and Senate passed the last-minute measure Monday to ease penalties on underage possession of both alcohol and marijuana as a way to secure Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature on legislation they had sent him in December.

Murphy faced a deadline to act on the December measures. He had earlier said he backed the legislation, but delayed signing them for more than two months amid concerns that young people of color could still face arrests, running afoul of his goal of undoing the effects of the war on drugs in Black communities.
The governor had declined to detail why he delayed, but said he wants to be sure that young people, particularly people of color, don’t get “tangled up in our criminal justice system.”

The bill that passed Monday amounted to a linchpin to getting the governor’s support, according to lawmakers.

The legislation makes underage possession of alcohol and marijuana subject to a written warnings that escalate to include parental notification and a referral to community services upon subsequent violations.

Currently, underage drinking is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Part of the legislation makes it so towns will no longer have the authority to enact ordinances with civil penalties or fines concerning underage possession or consumption violations on private property, among other measures.

It also increases the liability for suppliers of cannabis items to underage people by making a third or subsequent violation a petty disorderly persons offense.

The impasse over marijuana stems from a November ballot question amending the constitution to permit recreational cannabis for those 21 and over that voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin.

The delay has sparked widespread frustration.

“This process has been a debacle from the beginning. The voters did their job,” Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo said. He had opposed marijuana legalization, though was supportive of decriminalization. He voted to pass the bill Monday because he said voters want lawmakers to move on and focus on Covid-19 relief.

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