Ballot question amending N.J. constitution to legalize recreational marijuana use approved by voters

The ballot question that asked voters whether to amend the New Jersey constitution to legalize recreational marijuana for adults was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the general election.

A constitutional amendment will allow the state to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana sales and consumption for adults 21 years of age and older.

The ballot question (formerly bill ACR-840) was sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Jamel Holley, Britnee N. Timberlake, and Angela McKnight.

New Jersey law enforcement officers made over 24,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, more than in the previous 20 years – approximately one every 22 minutes. African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis passion than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates with white counterparts. Cannabis possession arrests constituted three out of five drug arrests also in 2012. The state spends approximately $127 million per year on cannabis possession enforcement costs.

Lawmakers who supported the ballot question said legalizing marijuana use will address social justice concerns in the state.

“The fact that Black New Jerseyans are three or four times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges has contributed to the disenfranchisement of black communities,” said Democratic Assemblyman James Holley (D-Union). “This is an unprecedented opportunity for residents to clean the slate with expungement provisions and for communities to grow their economic base with businesses. Voters have approved. Now it’s time to get to work.”

Officials also said the legalization of marijuana will generate jobs and revenue for the state.

“I became interested in legalization due to the inequalities in the enforcement of cannabis laws and their long term impacts on the lives of all people in this state, but, considerably, those of color,” said Assemblywoman Quijano (D-Union). “We will listen to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and take a common-sense and justice-focused approach to the regulation of cannabis. This is a new arena for New Jersey law and the beginning of a new era of economic opportunity and hope for a better future for thousands of New Jersey residents.”

New Jersey joins Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan have legalized the adult-use of cannabis that permits the cultivation and sale of cannabis establishing regulated revenue-producing markets. 

“Undoubtedly, this will be the largest regulatory undertaking the state has considered since the casino commission,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson). “Remaining at status quo meant continued disparity in arrests for African Americans and teens for amounts now to be considered personal use. We are moving the state in a direction more compassionate for cannabis and in line with what is happening across the country with regard to legalization. New Jersey voters have spoken.”

Before residents can begin purchasing and using marijuana in the state, lawmakers must pass a bill detailing rules and regulations surrounding the cannabis industry. Officials said marijuana dispensaries will be required to go through a rigorous licensing process. The change does not go into effect until January of 2021, and the licensing process could take up to a year.