A new decision from the New Jersey state legislatures will allow residents to have their voices heard about cannabis legalization, and could finally make legal weed a reality in the Garden State once and for all.
According to NJ.com, state senators and representatives separately approved the impending ballot initiative by a necessary two-thirds margin, automatically advancing the question to a statewide vote next November.
“Putting the issue to a referendum is both sensible and equitable," Assembly Speaker Craig Couglin said in a statement. “While not our preferred method of legislating, public questions allow voters to affirm or deny massive shifts in public policy.”
Since Governor Phil Murphy took office almost two years ago, the Democratic head of state has made a point to pursue cannabis legalization head on. But thanks to legislative indecision and staunch aversion from some right wing lawmakers, every attempt at legalization has been stopped short. In place of full legalization, Gov. Murphy has expanded the state’s medical marijuana program, and reduced penalties for minor pot crimes.
“People actually smoke marijuana every day," State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a vocal legalization advocate in the legislature, told NJ.com. “Can you believe it? But until your relative gets arrested over this substance that is widely used in this state and country, some people will not understand why this is so important.”
If passed, the adult-use cannabis ballot measure would legalize weed for adults 21 years and older, create a state-run cannabis commission to oversee regulations and licensing, and also establish a state and potential municipal excise tax for all legal cannabis sales.
“Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?” The ballot measure reads. “Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”
New Jersey officials do not yet have a timeline for the rollout of the hypothetical cannabis program if it is approved next fall, but the Garden State would be in rare company alongside Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine as the fourth state (not including Washington D.C.) on the East Coast to go fully legal.
“While we are disappointed the legislature did not directly legalize marijuana, we are optimistic that 2020 will be the year New Jersey replaces its eight-decade-long experiment with marijuana prohibition with a more thoughtful and humane approach," Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the cannabis advocacy organization Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.
“Marijuana prohibition has derailed thousands of lives in New Jersey, while driving marijuana production and sales to the sometimes dangerous illicit market."
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