On November 3, 2020, another nail was hammered into the coffin of federal marijuana prohibition when New Jersey voters chose to legalize recreational cannabis in their state by way of Question 1.
Question 1 is the first legalization measure that a state legislature has referred to voters. Introduced by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutari after the legislature failed to pass a marijuana legalization statute, the resolution got the full support of Gov. Phil Murphy who also campaigned on cannabis legalization.
Now, adults aged 21 and older in New Jersey will be allowed to use and possess pot. However, the ballot question does not provide specific rules for governing the regulation of marijuana. Rather, it only serves as a starting point for an expectedly lengthy rule-making process for the legislature and CRC.
The constitutional amendment is set to take effect on January 1, 2021 which means it will take time before New Jersey’s marijuana market takes off. Furthermore, there is no assurance that home cultivation will even make it to the table, seeing that even current medical marijuana laws do not allow it.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of New Jersey Marijuana Laws
Both recreational and medical marijuana are now legal in New Jersey. While state lawmakers have yet to draft and implement rules governing recreational use, Gov. Murphy had already signed legislation ceasing marijuana possession arrests on February 22, 2021.
- Possession – An amount of more than 6 ounces is a crime in the 4th degree punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months and a maximum fine of $25,000. Possession within 1000 feet of a school will add 100 hours of community service to the punishment, as well as an additional fine.
- Sale – Selling less than an ounce of marijuana in New Jersey is a crime in the 4th degree. Selling to minors and pregnant women get twice the penalties.
- Less than 1 oz (second/subsequent offense) – a crime in the 4th degree punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months and a maximum fine of $25,000.
- 1 oz to less than 5 lbs, or less than 1 ounce within 500 feet of certain public property – a crime in the 3rd degree punishable by a minimum of 3 to 5 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000.
- Selling within 1000 feet of school property or a school bus gets the same charge, except with a maximum fine of $150,000.
- 5 lbs to less than 25 lbs – a crime in the 2nd degree punishable by a minimum of 5 to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $150,000.
- 25 lbs or more – a crime in the 1st degree punishable by a minimum of 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $300,000.
- Cultivation – Cultivation is penalized based on the amount of marijuana or the number of plants possessed by the grower.
- 1 oz to less than 5 lb, or less than 10 plants – a crime in the 3rd degree
- 5 lbs to less than 25 lbs, or 10 to less than 50 plants – a crime in the 2nd degree
- 25 lbs or more, or 50 plants or more – a crime in the 1st degree
History of Marijuana in New Jersey
At present, New Jersey is cruising down an open highway towards legalization, thanks to the efforts of Democratic lawmakers. Fortunately, all the anticipated pro-marijuana legislation has the full support of Gov. Phil Murphy, which practically makes adult-use cannabis a done deal in the state. Seeing these developments, it can be difficult to imagine that marijuana reform did not come as easy in New Jersey around a decade ago.
Governor opposes legalization
In fact, even medical cannabis barely got through in 2010 due to Republican opposition. After Gov. Jon Corzine approved S 119 or the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) in the last few days of his term, his successor, Gov. Chris Christie, did not have any qualms showing his disdain for the program which he called a “front for legalization” of marijuana. Naturally, CUMMA did not fare well under Christie, enrollments in the program remained low partly due to high costs despite the rigid limitations of the program. Christie’s stance on marijuana also discouraged doctors to recommend it to their patients. During that time, New Jersey became known as having the strictest medical marijuana law among the 16 states where it was legal.
Medical marijuana law gets expanded
However, the governor had no choice but to concede on a few occasions. The first one was when he signed a bill that gave sick minors greater access to edible medical cannabis. Initially, Christie said he would allow it the state legislature agreed to revisions but eventually got pressured after a parent of a child suffering from Dravet Syndrome publicly confronted him. In 2016, Christie also signed A 457 which adds PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, citing that the combat veterans of New Jersey would benefit from the bill.
Gov. Christie nevertheless remains a staunch opponent of marijuana. In 2017, he even hit back at the sponsors of New Jersey’s legalization bill, saying that the Democrats were willing to “poison kids to receive blood money”, referring to the revenue expected from the sales of recreational marijuana once it becomes legal.
Legalization of adult-use marijuana
After a long-time of political inaction on the issue, recreational marijuana finally became legal in New Jersey, with residents overwhelmingly voting in favor by way of a constitutional amendment.
Although residents will have to wait a few months since lawmakers will still have to pass enabling legislation for the implementation of the state’s legal marijuana program, Sen. Nicholas Scutari said existing dispensaries for medical marijuana could be selling to recreational customers as early as the end of the month.
In addition to this, the two decriminalization bills introduced this year are currently awaiting action from the legislature. Although A 1897 seeks to bring down penalties for possession of up to 2 oz down to a $50 fine, it is said to have significant loopholes that allow for continued criminalization of pot users. Meanwhile, the more comprehensive S 2535 decriminalizes up to a pound of weed and even creates an expungement process for past marijuana-related arrests and convictions.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of New Jersey
How do New Jersey marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in New Jersey
Yes, adult-use cannabis is legal in New Jersey.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in New Jersey.
Yes, New Jersey has a medical marijuana program that allows patients and caregivers to legally possess cannabis.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is still not allowed in New Jersey.
New Jersey residents have already voted in favor of recreational marijuana legalization but lawmakers still have to make rules that govern cannabis possession, sale, and cultivation. There are also two marijuana decriminalization bills awaiting the legislature’s approval.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in New Jersey.
Only adult workers employed by a licensed marijuana production entity may legally grow medical cannabis in New Jersey.
Even though New Jersey’s marijuana laws do not include home cultivation yet, there is a good possibility such a provision might be approved in the future if neighboring Eastern states, particularly New York, allow it. Once marijuana gains more acceptance and the industry grows, more people will surely grow interested in growing at home. This is something that the state would probably want to regulate since it would probably be more of a problem for law enforcement to raid homes for illegal grow sites despite marijuana already out in the open.