In general, the decriminalization proposal would remove criminal and civil penalties for possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. While Murphy is in favor of that policy change, the legislation as passed doesn’t maintain penalties for people under 21, and there’s a desire for youth cannabis possession cases to be treated in the same way as underage alcohol possession.
Separately, the governor also reportedly has issues with language in the sales implementation bill as it relates to decriminalization proposals included therein. Those may also have to be worked out in order for Murphy to sign off.
Legislative leaders and the governor recently reached a deal on overall cannabis bills. But while there’s a quickly narrowing timeframe to get that enacted—with legalization set to take effect under a constitutional amendment on January 1—it could be held up due to the decriminalization dispute.
It’s unclear what would happen if there’s a delay in signing the implementation bill into law. Cannabis would be legal for adults under the state Constitution, but there would be no regulated means of obtaining the plant or taxes for the state to collect on retail sales. It seems that, short of a last-minute deal and a hastily called virtual voting session, lawmakers would have to take the legislation back up when they reconvene in 2021.
Murphy could hypothetically sign the legal sales implementation bill while issues are resolved with the decriminalization legislation, but it’s not clear that he’s willing to do that.
Advocates have encouraged the legislature to swiftly enact cannabis sales regulations, but they’ve pushed back on the initial proposal that was introduced, arguing that it did not go far enough to address social equity and restorative justice for communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The newest version approved this month seeks to address those concerns, but some activists say it is still inadequate.