A New Jersey Legislature joint committee convened on Monday to debate and hear public comment relating to the New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act, a measure to legalize cannabis in the state for adults over the age of 21.
A steady stream of nearly ninety speakers brought a mixture of arguments for and against the legalization measure for hours during the public comment period before members of the committee gave their statements and final votes.
“This is the first step in having an open dialogue, a conversation about who we really are in this state and in this country and how we’re dealing with an industry that exists, that impacts different communities in different ways,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz [D-29th District] before voting yes. “And I’m looking forward to see [sic] how the conversation continues before we vote on the bill on the floor.”
During Assemblymember Jamel C. Holley’s [D-20th District] turn, he spoke about his personal experiences with racial discrimination and the disproportionate rate at which African-Americans are arrested for cannabis infractions.
“For all of us around this table and those that are not here yet who will vote on this in the future, what I’m saying to you is provide relief,” said Holley while giving his affirmative vote. “Provide relief for those individuals who look like me, who darn it, didn’t have a chance in the past because of a drug that was called illegal.”
The Senate ended up voting 7-3, and the Assembly voted 6-2 in favor of the legalization measure. One member on each side of the joint committee abstained.
Now that the measure has passed committee, it will head to the full legislature for consideration. Pending approval by both the Assembly and the Senate, the bill is expected to be in pro-cannabis Governor Phil Murphy’s hands for his signature by the end of the year.