Moving quickly on recently passed legislation, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy this week signed bills legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. Voters approved a ballot measure last November amending the state constitution to pave the way for legal weed.
Collectively, the three bills open the door for the cannabis industry and close the gap in racial disparities in the criminal justice system. DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, told ABC News the new laws create an opportunity for “restorative justice and equity.”
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible.”
The governor continued to stress the importance of bringing equity and economic opportunity to all communities while setting minimum safety standards.
The new legislation requires adjustment on behalf of the state’s law enforcement. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal released guidelines for police to ensure compliance with the new laws. Grewal stressed police could no longer use the smell of marijuana as a pretense for searching a vehicle. Officers who violate the guideline against searches could face criminal charges.
He also ordered prosecutors to apply the new laws to any pending charges and dismiss all cases where applicable. The attorney general also shared new rules for the enforcement of restrictions on underage use and possession.
The state expects the recreational marijuana marketplace to come online in about six months.
Virginia could soon follow suit, as lawmakers negotiate a final proposal for legalizing marijuana. The Virginia house and senate passed different versions of bills legalizing marijuana, with both bills going to a legislative conference for reconciliation before heading to the governor’s desk for signing.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker applauded the new law pointing to the damaging impact of the War on Drugs on poor communities and Black and Brown families specifically. At the end of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the historic MORE ACT which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. It has yet to be taken up in the U.S. Senate.
“I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to end the federal marijuana prohibition so we can finally begin healing the wounds of decades of injustice,” said Booker.
New Jersey joins 15 other states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territory Guam for where marijuana has been fully legalized or decriminalized.