SECAUCUS, N.J. — Almost exactly 16 weeks after New Jersey voters approved, in a referendum, the legalization of adult recreational use marijuana, it became law on Monday.
With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Phil Murphy added New Jersey to the list of 14 states and the District of Columbia for which possessing and using marijuana are part of the state’s economy, with legislative approval.
“I signed three bills,” the governor said at an early afternoon news conference, “that will fulfill the promise of the constitutional amendment the people of New Jersey overwhelmingly supported three months ago, by legalizing adult use cannabis and decriminalizing marijuana possession in small amounts.”
From Election Day to Monday, when sales and possession became state law, it’s been 111 days. As to why it took that long for the voters’ will to become policy, one of New Jersey’s foremost observers of politics said that the situation, like all things in the state, can be complicated.
“Nothing is easy in New Jersey,” said Peter Woolley, director of the School of Public and Global Affairs at Fairleigh-Dickinson University. “That’s just who we are.”
Many details related to the legislation had to be hammered out, Woolley said.
“Can you have a bushelful, or just an ounce? What are the penalties for having more than you’re supposed to have? Who gets to sell this marijuana, and who gets to regulate the selling of the marijuana? Who gets the money? Who gets the profits?” he said.
Coming up with laws to deal with specific issues like those required work by the state legislature. Various members had concerns, including ensuring that underage use was prevented, and that past criminal charges for possession and use of small quantities would be expunged from people’s records.
Murphy said that he was confident that the legislation, and the government entities it formed, would result in a fair and equitable new business for the Garden State.
“There are laws that will usher in a new industry based on equity,” said the governor, “and will reinvest dollars into communities.”
However, some questions remain. The governor said that it could take between six and nine months for the New Jersey industry to take shape.
Shaya Broadchandel is the CEO of a corporation that already sells marijuana legally, for medicinal purposes only. He said that he sees opportunity ahead for the state, and for his company, Harmony Dispensary.
“We want to be prepared for the additional economic growth in the state,” Broadchandel said in an interview. “There’s a lot of jobs that we’ll create through hiring, new retail locations will open expanded growth, and overall, this should reduce the price of marijuana in the state, by having having increased access.”
Still, the situation legally is unclear enough that New Jersey’s largest police union sent out a warning to officers statewide to not make marijuana arrests until the laws are more clear.
For underage users, the protocols are clear, according to John Wisniewski, a former assemblyman with more than 20 years of legislative experience.
“[The] first warning is kept in a file,” he said. “Second warning goes to your parents, third warning, you get referred to a treatment facility, a counseling facility.”
Wisniewski said the new protocols are on place of other harsh penalties.
Still, Woolley, the political expert, said much more has to be done before the new law becomes old hat, as it were.
“As with every thing else,” he said, “there’s going to be a fair amount of litigation in the next few years, as we find out that there are questions that we really didn’t have clear answers to.”