The long awaited legalization of recreational cannabis in New Jersey is only days away from a vote in the legislature. The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with a vote of 6-4, while the state Assembly Appropriations Committee approved it in a 6-2 vote.
The official name of the Assembly Bill is the Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Modernization Act and this will now head to the floor of the legislature for a vote on March 25th. While there is still some uncertainty whether or not the bill will receive the votes it needs, many advocates feel strongly that it will pass.
Governor Phil Murphy has already stated that he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk and has been working especially hard in recent days to garner more support from lawmakers who are still on the fence. It’s likely that he will be making many more calls in the days to come to ensure that these bills have the votes to legalize recreational cannabis.
The New Jersey Governor acknowledged that what they are trying to accomplish is no easy feat. Governor Murphy said that, “We’re going to have to put everything into this. There is only one state in America that has done this legislatively. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of this. We’re not only expunging and undoing a whole lot of social injustices but creating a new industry. This is not an easy lift.”
Not only will these bills legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey but they also expand medical marijuana and establish an expungement program. Assemblywoman Annette Quijano notes that, “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. It is time we listen to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and take a common-sense approach to regulation of cannabis. This bill is a huge first step."
The founder of New Jersey United for Marijuana, Bill Caruso, feels strongly that the social equity aspects of these bills are likely the most redeeming quality. Caruso points out that, “The demand was for the need to address racial and social inequalities, not just to legalize cannabis.” He went on to say “The way I’ve looked at this is sort of a juxtaposition against what New Jersey has done and has been doing to what New York hasn’t.”
Caruso’s comparison to neighboring New York refers to their lack of social equity programs that have yet to be amended and the slow progression toward legalizing recreational marijuana. However there are some who think the latest version of the bills could go farther with expungements for cannabis convictions.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka expressed her concerns to this point in front of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Baraka noted that, “The expungement process is cumbersome and not effective. It still penalizes individuals that have been convicted of marijuana charges. We should remedy all situations, and give people an opportunity to live their lives wholly and peacefully so that previous cannabis offenses do not deny them access to job opportunities that can help improve their quality of life.”