New Jersey faces one more cannabis legalization vote on Tuesday
The Nov. 2 vote in New Jersey could have a profound effect on the expected opening of the state’s legal adult-use cannabis industry next year.
One candidate for governor—incumbent Phil Murphy, a Democrat—has overseen the passage of legalization and the forward, if imperfect, progress toward the opening of the state’s retail market. The other candidate—Republican Jack Ciattarelli—is openly hostile to cannabis and wants to repeal legalization because he wants cops to arrest more weed smokers.
It’s a pretty stark contrast.
For most New Jersey residents, there are still problems with legal cannabis in the Garden State: It took too long to happen, too many towns have banned retail sales, home grow isn’t allowed, there’s not enough support for equity businesses, and it’s still going to be months before the first adult-use stores open to the public.
Way back in 2017, Phil Murphy ran for governor promising to pass cannabis legalization “in his first 100 days.” He got elected, then spent the next three years trying to push a bill through the state legislature, without success. New Jersey Republicans largely opposed legalization, while Murphy’s fellow Democrats engaged in endless negotiations over different aspects of competing plans.
Finally, in Nov. 2020, the question was put before state voters in the form of a ballot referendum. That measure passed by a massive margin (67% yes to 33% no), making legal cannabis officially more popular in New Jersey than any statewide political candidate in recent memory.
Building an equitable industry takes time
Building a regulated cannabis industry from scratch may be taking longer than advocates would like, but many of the social justice benefits of legalization that Gov. Murphy originally ran on have already come online. In Feb. 2021, he signed three separate reform bills, including one decriminalizing up to six ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Another bill decriminalized cannabis for those under 21 caught for the first time, replacing criminal penalties with a written warning.
Gov. Murphy also appointed former ACLU lawyer Dianna Houenou as chair of New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with a mandate to oversee the state’s emerging industry in a way that’s “equitable, fair, and inclusive of all communities.”
Over 362,000 cannabis cases have since been expunged in New Jersey.
The continued prohibition on homegrow is a problem for many cannabis enthusiasts and reform advocates. But in a recent appearance on his NJ News 12call-in segment, “Ask Governor Murphy,” the state’s chief executive said that he’s now “open-minded” about signing a bill allowing home cultivation.
“I support adult-use [cannabis legalization] purely because of social justice,” he added. “It’s actually happening as we speak. And the industry is being built with equity first and foremost as its objective.”
Of course, that could all change if Tuesday’s election swings against Murphy.