The New Jersey State Legislature voted to approve a pair of companion measures this week, moving the state closer toward possible cannabis legalization in the next year.
The Assembly voted 49-24-1 to approve ACR-840 and the Senate voted 24-16 to approve SCR-183, giving voters the opportunity in 2020 to decide whether to amend the state constitution and allow the state to adopt new cannabis policies that provide for the taxation and regulation of cannabis sales and consumption by adults over the age of 21.
ACR-840 was sponsored by Representatives Annette Quijano (D), Jamel Holley (D), Britnee Timberlake (D), Angela McKnight (D), and Yvonne Lopez (D), and SCR-183 was sponsored by Senators Nicholas Scutari (D) and Stephen Sweeney (D).
“As a prime sponsor, it was important to ensure the legislation included real enterprising opportunity,” says Timberlake. “This, along with more defined employment opportunities and a commission which requires diversity, was pivotal to include. In addition to legalization being a clear revenue generator for the state, the social justice, and diversity portion was imperative.”
According to a New Jersey Assembly Democrats press release, New Jersey law enforcement officers made more than 24,000 arrests for cannabis possession in 2012, or one every 22 minutes; a higher rate than the previous 20 years.
The release states that, despite similar usage rates, African Americans are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis offenses than white New Jerseyans, and cannabis arrests constituted three out of five arrests in 2012.
New Jersey spends approximately $127 million annually on cannabis possession enforcement costs.
Representative Quijano says that she became interested in cannabis legalization due to the inequalities in cannabis law enforcement and the long-term impacts on people in the state, notably those of color.
“I believe, with this constitutional amendment, we have listened to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and taken a common-sense approach to regulation of cannabis,” says Representative Quijano. “This is a new arena for New Jersey law and one that we hope will protect citizens, support communities and create a new economic driver for the state.”
Representative McKnight says that remaining at status quo meant a continued disparity in arrests of African Americans and teens for personal-use amounts of cannabis, and that the state is being moved in a more compassionate direction for cannabis that is in-line with what is happening across the country regarding legalization.
The adult-use sale of cannabis is currently permitted in Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan.
It is also legal to grow and consume cannabis in Vermont and Washington D.C. but sales are not allowed.