Gov. Murphy signs laws to set up legal marijuana market in New Jersey
Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Monday legislation to set up a recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalize cannabis and loosen penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol.
The move comes more than three months since voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize adult use of the drug.
The Assembly and Senate passed the last-minute measure Monday to ease penalties on underage possession of both alcohol and marijuana to secure Gov. Phil Murphy's signature on legislation they had sent him in December.
"As of this moment, New Jersey has broken indefensible marijuana laws, which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures," says Murphy. "And which disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise, are no more."
Some of the details in the new laws include people under 21 only getting a warning if they're caught with pot. They won't face fines for jail. In addition, penalties for underage drinking are now less severe, going from possible jail time to a warning.
Some Republicans say kids are getting a free pass.
"To me this is a watered down, convoluted insane bill that just got passed today," says Sen. Mike Testa. "There's a reason why we have that legal age, and now law enforcement is going to have their hands tied."
Murphy defended the law saying, "My message is it's adult use and it should be treated like any substance like this alcohol or other responsibly."
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, a father of four boys, says he's long feared one of his kids getting swept up by the system. He says harsh penalties for teens would just keep the cycle going.
"The bottom line is I wanna see numbers that show this has an impact on the lives of our Black and brown youth in particular giving them an opportunity a start in life," says Wimberly.
Republicans say taxes will keep the black market going. There's sales tax, which allows towns to add a tax and regulators to add another tax on top of that.
Marijuana will need to be purchased legally when the markets for selling weed open, which could take months.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, PBA President Patrick Colligan advised all police officers to avoid approaching people with marijuana until “a proper legal analysis and direction can be developed.” Colligan said that the officers could be subject to civil rights violations. He also said that the bill “is an assault on our ability to do our job and to enforce the law.”
The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.