In partnership with The Fresh Toast
Marijuana was supposed to be legal in New Jersey at the turn of the New Year, but it isn’t safe to use it just yet.
When the voters hit the polls in the November 2020 general election, they overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure calling for the existence of a taxed and regulated pot market. It basically called for adults 21 and older to have the right to purchase weed like they would alcoholic beverages.
Somewhere around 2.7 million voters said yes to pot. And they expected to get it come January 2020. But despite being given two months to reach some agreement on the rules surrounding reefer, New Jersey lawmakers have failed to show the state how the legal system is going to work.
“There are no implementing laws and there are no regulations by the new commission that’s being created,” Robert Williams, a retired constitutional law professor at Rutgers Law School, said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press. “It’s an odd situation, actually, that the people can vote for something and literally the Legislature can block it by doing nothing.”
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While marijuana should have been legal for New Jersey residents as of New Year’s Day, all the political figures responsible for making that happen failed. State lawmakers and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission were charged with hashing out the legal framework for how marijuana would join civil society. Still, arguments over taxes and reparations for communities abused by the drug war have prevented them from coming to terms. The outcome means that marijuana exists in a bizarre political purgatory that could prevent it from actually going legal well into 2021.
Even state lawmakers understand just how inefficient they are at realizing legalization. It’s the reason a slew of separate proposals have been championed as of late to decriminalize small-time possession and put a leash on cannabis arrests. But the state legislature can’t even get it together long enough to see those to fruition.
The situation is frustrating enough, as is. But toss in the fact that Governor Phil Murphy and the State legislature have been trying for years to legalize weed, and frustration doesn’t even begin articulating the scene. Embarrassing and incompetent does. The whole reason the voters were asked to decide on legal weed is that lawmakers couldn’t seem to agree on whether they should do it and how it should be established.
It’s now 2021, the voters have spoken favorably, and the suits are still standing in the way of progress.
Until lawmakers and regulatory officials can get it together on legal marijuana, state prosecutors still consider it a crime.
“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 in a statement. “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 [November’s] vote.”
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The attorney general’s office also said it would issue some additional guidance on pot prosecutions, but only after lawmakers made good on their end. For now, law enforcement has “broad discretion” on how they treat low-level marijuana offenses. They can choose to arrest these people, slap them with a fine or just forget about it altogether. But it’s going to take putting the legal system into place before cannabis users can be sure their actions won’t be considered criminal.