In May 2017, State Senator Nicholas Scutari introduced a measure to legalize adult use marijuana, including limits on personal possession of cannabis products, a ban on home cultivation, and a progressive state sales tax with annual increases up to 25%. Then Republican Governor Chris Christie opposed the legalization efforts, but after the election of Democrat Governor Phil Murphy in 2018, legalization was back on the table, with multiple competing proposals. The New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act, introduced on June 7, 2018, would have, in its final form, allowed adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and imposed a $42 per ounce excise tax and local transfer or user tax to be determined.
State lawmakers tried for more than a year to pass the bill, but fell short of votes in the Senate. It appears that there was momentum in favor among the Democratic majority, but the devil was in the details. There was debate over issues of expungement of criminal records, how to tax the sales, proper awarding of licenses for new business, and potential negative impact on communities. Certain legislators had consistently opposed legalization because of fear of impaired drivers, increased crime, and a general concern over public health issues.
Legalization Put to a Vote
On Dec. 19, 2019, both the Assembly and the Senate voted in favor placing the legalization question on the ballot on Nov. 3, 2020, as follows (requiring a “yes” or “no” vote):
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.