New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced on Tuesday that he will be working with lawmakers to advance legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession after the legislature failed to produce a passable bill to more broadly legalize cannabis.
While the question of legalizing and regulating sales is now expected to go before voters as a referendum on the 2020 ballot, removing criminal penalties for mere possession could prove more palatable to some lawmakers in the interim.
“Decriminalization of adult-use marijuana cannot be our long-term solution, but we now must turn to it for critical short-term relief while we await a ballot measure on legalization next November,” Murphy said in a press release. “Maintaining a status quo that sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable.”
The governor said he would coordinate with both chambers to ensure that decriminalization passes “as soon as possible.”
Previously, Murphy expressed skepticism about enacting simple decriminalization without having a regulated market for consumers, arguing that removing penalties for possession alone could give the illicit market a boost.
However, with the prospect of a legalization ballot initiative on the horizon, Murphy said he’s ready to achieve the modest reform in the meantime. He also said last week that he’s interested in pursuing expungements of past records in the lead up to next year’s election.