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Legal New Jersey Cannabis Question On Ballot Next Year

With legal New Jersey cannabis legalization legislation thought dead, the Legislature moved ahead with the bill to make cannabis legalization a ballot question next year.

It would be an amendment to the state constitution.

Advocates making up the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) coalition testified in favor of the bill. It easily passed out of both the Assembly Oversight and Senate Commerce committees.

The ACLU-led coalition New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform includes Doctors For Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), Garden State NORML, the NAACP, the Law Enforcement and Action Partnership, the Latino Action Network (on whose board I sit, full disclosure), and the Rev. Charles Boyer, among others.

“We need to restore the rights and clear the records of hundreds of thousands of residents. We need to create a truly equitable market. One that gives back to communities deeply affected by Prohibition. A market that puts small-business New Jersey locals first,” said Garden State NORML Executive Director Charlana McKeithen.

McKeithen added that 62 percent of New Jerseyans favor New Jersey cannabis legalization, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.

Legal New Jersey Cannabis Ballot Issues

It is not an ideal situation. Many had hoped legal New Jersey cannabis reform would pass during the lame-duck session before the new legislature begins.

Since it is a presidential year, the ballot question is expected to pass easily. Afterward, the legislature still has to vote to approve legalization. Thus, it merely delays the process. New York and Connecticut are only slightly behind at this point.

Many were wary of New Jersey cannabis legalization via ballot question. They felt it would exclude the social justice provisions that are key to creating an equitable industry in New Jersey and addressing the harm of the War on Drugs. Several advocates are extremely frustrated with this latest failure on the part of the legislature.

“Marijuana prohibition drives markets underground. And abdicates control of these markets to those who typically operate outside the boundaries of the law,” McKeithen said. “Regulation, by contrast, allows for lawmakers to establish legal parameters regarding where, when, and how an adult cannabis market may operate. Legalization also provides oversight regarding who may legally operate in said markets and provides guidelines so that those who do can engage in best practices.”

Cannabis Reform And Jersey Politis

While legal New Jersey cannabis legalization would be a ballot question, decriminalization and expungement bills should be voted on by the end of the lame-duck session. These separate measures would bring justice to the thousands of individuals, the majority of whom are disproportionately minorities, who were caught as part of the long and destructive War on Drugs. But given the nature of New Jersey politics, don’t hold your breath.

Decriminalization opposed to legalization would not create a legal market. It’s seen as having broader support. Some Democratic State Senators support it who were apprehensive of voting for full New Jersey cannabis legalization.

While not ideal, it makes the best of a bad situation.

Governor Phil Murphy (D) is eager to sign cannabis reform legislation. But he also has endorsed decriminalization as an alternative to full New Jersey cannabis legalization. Murphy campaigned on full legalization. He infamously declared it would be done within his first 100 days in office. Murphy did not anticipate the complications of dealing with the reluctant legislature led by strong-willed figures.

New Jersey Advocates Rally For Better Ballot Question

While the hearings were happening, activists, including Sativa Cross, the Indica Alliance, and NJ Revolution Radio, rallied outside. They were fundamentally unhappy with the NJ cannabis legalization bill Senator Nick Scutari (D-Union) introduced, S. 2703, which the NJUMR had been pushing for. They felt that the bill favored large corporations over local small businesses. It also did not include the ability to grow plants at home, AKA home grow. They recently rallied for its inclusion. NJ cannabis advocates cited the high price and low quality of the cannabis available within the state’s current dispensaries.

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