New Jersey lawmakers approved a resolution on Monday that will put a referendum on legalizing marijuana on the state’s 2020 ballot.
The Senate voted 24-16 in favor of the measure, with the Assembly following by a margin of 49-24—supermajority support that means lawmakers will not have to vote on the measure again next year, which is required for such resolutions if they are only approved by a simple majority.
The votes come days after committees in both chambers held hearings on the issue, with testimony from advocates, stakeholders and opponents.
“We’re optimistic that next November New Jersey voters will replace an eight-decade-long policy disaster with a far more sensible approach to marijuana,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
While advocates and certain lawmakers had hoped to enact legalization legislatively this year, disagreements over the specifics of proposed bills derailed that effort, and leaders agreed to put the question of broad cannabis reform before voters instead.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who had participated in negotiations with the legislature to get legalization done, said last month that he was disappointed a passable bill didn’t materialize but that he’s confident New Jersey voters will support the policy change next November.
In the meantime, the governor said he will work with lawmakers to expeditiously pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession.
“While this is an important step, the legislature’s action is bittersweet,” O’Keefe said of the referendum votes. “MPP preferred the comprehensive, 147-page legalization bill, which included robust social equity provisions and would have gone into effect much sooner. We urge the legislature not to let those important protections fall by the wayside. The legislature should immediately decriminalize marijuana, to save tens of thousands of New Jerseyans from the trauma and humiliation of arrests. And the state should ensure that implementation includes strong provisions to benefit and include those who have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) December 16, 2019
Murphy and the governors of several other states in the Northeast have also engaged in a regional dialogue about how to coordinate their cannabis markets after it’s legalized. It’s not clear how New Jersey opting for a referendum process will impact those discussions, however.
Here’s how the marijuana question will appear on the ballot, per the resolution approved by lawmakers:
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA
Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?
Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market.
Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.
Amending the state constitution through a referendum isn’t quite so simple in New Jersey, either. To effectively make the change, the legislature must approve the proposal with a simple majority in two consecutive years, or once with a three-fifths supermajority, as was the case with Monday’s votes.
Also on Monday, the lawmakers approved legislation providing for an expedited expungement process for prior convictions. The Senate also scheduled adopted a resolution urging Congress to establish safe dosing standards for CBD products.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.