On Monday, with just minutes to spare before a constitutional deadline, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills making good on a campaign promise and an overwhelming vote of approval by residents last November to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in New Jersey.
The bills to legalize and decriminalize use of the drug had a tumultuous path to Murphy’s desk and years of failed legislative attempts, which ended with a vote in both houses Monday morning after sharp negotiations over one sticking point: penalties for underage users.
A new, cleanup bill addresses both underage drinking and marijuana use with a three-tier system of written warnings that notifies parents or guardians of a second offense, and escalates to community-based counseling rather than fines on a third.
Residents won’t be able to buy marijuana just yet, but arrests for possession and use should start to slow. On Monday, the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association called a key part of that bill anti-police rhetoric at its worst for barring officers who see or smell alcohol and marijuana from stopping the user or inquiring about their age or officers can be criminally charged. But Murphy said the law finally breaks the status quo that enabled tens of thousands of arrests for low-level drug use by people of color.