Speed Reads

Marijuana legalization

New Jersey legalizes marijuana, scraps criminal penalties for underage users

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted to legalize marijuana within his first 100 days in office. He succeeded three years later, and three months after New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to make weed legal for adults. Murphy signed a series of laws Monday that decriminalized possession of up to six ounces of marijuana, creates a recreational marijuana marketplace for adults, and bars criminal penalties for people under 21 caught with either pot or alcohol.

Murphy quietly signed the bills Monday morning, right after the state Senate and Assembly passed the measure creating civil penalties for underage possession. The legislature had sent the other bills to Murphy in December, but he had declined to sign them until the youth penalties were ironed out. Murphy said he did not want young people, especially the young Black people disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession, to get "tangled up in our criminal justice system." He highlighted the criminal justice aspect of the legislation — and dropped in a weed pun — in a celebratory tweet Monday night.

Once a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission is seated, it will have six months to set up rules and regulations and begin licensing recreational dispensaries. The cessation of marijuana arrests, decried by some police unions, should begin much quicker. Under the new law, minors caught with alcohol or marijuana will get written warnings, escalated to parental involvement and then community service for repeat violations.