Home #FocusFocus Climate Change #FOCUSDEMOCRACY: Recreational Marijuana Can Now Be Legalized in New Jersey

#FOCUSDEMOCRACY: Recreational Marijuana Can Now Be Legalized in New Jersey

by Cristal Santos

This 2020 election has been called by many, one of the most important elections in history. Although there is a delay in knowing the official election results, one thing that was known early on was that New Jerseyans voted to amend the constitution to legalize recreational marijuana.

Many believe this is something that was long overdue.

Jessica Henry, a justice studies professor at Montclair State University and criminal justice advocate, says that prior to it being legalized, people did not understand that low-level marijuana arrests have tremendous effects on those who gets pulled into the system.

“Our criminal justice system is fundamentally broken and targets poor people, and people of color and these marijuana laws mirror that effect. So when we take a stand and we say we don’t want to see the criminalization of marijuana, we’re also saying we don’t want to see mass incarceration continue the way that it has. We don’t want to see so many people in our prison system,” Henry said.

Professor Jessica Henry during an interview where she shared her expertise. Photo courtesy of Cristal Santos

Professor Jessica Henry during an interview where she shares her expertise.
Photo courtesy of Cristal Santos

In the weeks leading up to the election, Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that more than $150 million are spent yearly processing marijuana arrests in New Jersey. Although money may be saved on arrests, others are concerned about the extra work and money it will take to regulate marijuana.

Maraya Kini, a criminal justice major at Rutgers University, believes that the legalization of marijuana will create “a whole different world.”

“I think if anything, it’s going to be a lot more work on the police end, because how do you know when someone’s had too much weed, and they can’t drive? There’s so much new stuff and there are so many little studies that are done on how marijuana, for example, affects driving,” Kini said. “I think that there’s gonna have to be a lot more money invested in how we patrol this and how we range it.”

There is no exact date as to when legislation will be passed with the regulatory framework, but one thing that is clear is that marijuana is still illegal. All of New Jersey’s criminal laws relating to marijuana continue to apply.

Last Friday, Gov. Murphy announced that senior policy advisor and associate counsel, Dianna Houenou, will serve as the chair of the cannabis regulatory commission, and Jeff Brown, the department of health’s assistant commissioner, will serve as the executive director of the commission.

“Since day one, we have said that the legalization of recreational marijuana must prioritize the communities marginalized and decimated by the failed war on drugs. I know that Dianna is the perfect person to lead our state’s effort to create a marketplace for recreational marijuana that is equitable, fair and inclusive of all communities,” Gov. Murphy stated in a press release.

“[Brown] will bring the same integrity, care and expertise that have led to the success of our medicinal marijuana program to his new role as executive director of the cannabis regulatory commission, where he will play a key role in establishing our recreational marijuana marketplace,” Gov. Murphy added.

Although there are mixed emotions about the outcome, students like Janeena Pinero, a senior theater studies major at Montclair State University, is delighted that marijuana will finally be legalized.

“I’m happy about this outcome for one major reason: Mass incarceration. I think the petty offense to always fine or arrest people due to this recreational plant is absurd because, let’s be honest, it’s just a plant. It’s not on the same level as cocaine or heroin, or all of those opioids; it’s just simply a plant,” said Pinero.

According to nj.com, Massachusetts’ first dispensary opened two years after their voters passed a 2016 referendum to legalize marijuana, and in Maine, it took four years.

New Jersey is not alone, as it joins the District of Columbia and 15 other states, including Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Talure Watson, a junior English major at Montclair State, is optimistic and happy that recreational marijuana is going to be legalized.

“It’s a great thing that marijuana has been legalized, after waiting for so long. I feel as though it will keep a lot of people out of jail, and I’m sure it will not be abused as much as people think it is going to be,” Watson said.

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