What to Know
- In the 2020 election year, Garden State voters went to the polls - and the mailbox - and supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, a drug already legal in 10 U.S. states but still outlawed by the federal government.
- In a teleconference with fellow democrats Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy once again stressed that the legalization of recreational marijuana will be a step toward social justice.
- Murphy went on to say the measure will be great for the economy of the state, driving in revenue and creating jobs.
In the 2020 election year, Garden State voters went to the polls - and the mailbox - and supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, a drug already legal in 10 U.S. states but still outlawed by the federal government.
In a teleconference with fellow Democrats Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy once again stressed that the legalization of recreational marijuana will be a step toward social justice.
"This is a state that when we came to office had the widest white, non-white persons incarcerated in America and that overwhelmingly because of low end drug crimes and we are going to put that reality with this huge step into the rear view mirror," Murphy said.
The governor also hinted during the teleconference, what the state's next steps are when it comes to officially welcoming the recreational adult use of marijuana to the state.
"The voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly passed the referendum that will allow the legal adult use, recreational cannabis. Obviously we are working with our legislative colleagues to get the enabling legislation," he said. "We’ll be naming commissioners and an executive director of the commission that will oversee this so this will now trigger lots of action, but we got there first and foremost overwhelmingly because of social justice."
Murphy went on to say the measure will be great for the economy of the state, driving in revenue and creating jobs.
"It’s going to be an economic driver, a revenue driver and more importantly a jobs driver. So I have to say that is a big step for the state of New Jersey, and again it addresses a lot of social injustices and gets us on the road to social justices," he said.
Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said Election Night that the approval was a "great day for New Jersey."
“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,” Hawkins added. “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.”
New Jersey was one of five states that voted on marijuana legalization, in addition to Arizona, Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota. Polls in the state showed about 60 percent of people supported legalization. New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 11 other states if voters approve the constitutional amendment.
The ballot measure passing will have plenty of interested investors in high gear after months wondering if they'd be allowed to sponsor or open a marijuana business in New Jersey. And the new industry could create 43,000 jobs in the state, Senate President Steve Sweeney of South Jersey previously told NBC10.
After a failed attempt to get marijuana legalization passed in the state legislature, the question went to the 2020 ballot. Voters were told if they approved the question, the drug would be legal in the state.
But experts said more would need to be done to stop police from arresting people for possession of the drug. The state legislature needed to pass a decriminalization bill; that didn't get signed into law before Election Day.
The state's attorney general warned residents on Wednesday that marijuana is not yet legal (as the amendment wouldn't take effect until Jan.1, 2021) and that "unregulated marijuana" was also not authorized.
“All of the state’s criminal laws relating to marijuana continue to apply, until, among other things, the Legislature enacts a law creating that regulatory framework,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “It is important that residents accurately understand the current situation, so they do not inadvertently engage in criminal conduct relating to marijuana— conduct that may be legal in the future once the Legislature acts, but is not presently legal based on yesterday’s vote.”
But now, with the mandate from the people, the legislature can formally legislate the stop of arrests for the now-legal drug.
Much of the regulations around the drug will come from a state commission, much like how the state has a commission governing alcohol sales.
Sweeney said he does not support an excise tax on the drug, hoping it will only be taxed at under 9% - the sum of state sales tax of 6.6% plus a 2% tax for local municipalities.
It’s unclear, though, how soon after the amendment passes that marijuana could hit the market. Lawmakers are wrestling with whether to enact legislation before the public weighs in in order to speed up when the market can open.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.