That’s according to a recent analysis of crime report data in Newark by Justin Leiby, an associate professor of accountancy at the University of Illinois.
The Newark Police Department made a total of 57 marijuana-related arrests in the first 20 days of this year, compared to 63 arrests made for the same period in 2020. But more notably, that trend is driven by a spike in arrests for simple possession alone, which grew from 39 last year to 48 this year—a 23 percent increase.
Cannabis became legal in New Jersey on Friday morning, January 1.
Or did it?
New Year’s Day was when a constitutional amendment legalizing the extremely popular plant—approved by more than two-thirds of New Jersey voters on Election Day—went into effect.
Simple enough. Except there’s a significant catch: All the laws on the books outlawing marijuana possession, use, and sales are still in effect.
The details: The legalization and decriminalization bills make a distinction between marijuana and cannabis, even though they’re the same plant. Cannabis is the term for the legalized drug and marijuana refers to products sold through the unregulated market, according to four people familiar with the discussion.
The Garden State is jumping feet-first into 2021, and with a historic vote to legalize marijuana in the rearview mirror, some New Jersey residents may have an urgent question that needs answering: Can I legally smoke a joint to ring in the new year?
The short answer is – not yet.
When New Jersey residents voted in the 2020 general election, they cast ballots for a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational cannabis in the state, which already has a booming medical marijuana program. That amendment takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
As tortured as the path to legalization has been, now the hard part really begins.
Come Jan. 1, the new laws go into effect with a host of unresolved issues. Those issues will be left for a newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), as well as the state attorney general. At the heart of these future policy decisions is how to create a $1 billion industry that will overtake the current illicit market and create tax revenue that will be used to help the minority communities (impact zones) hardest hit by disparate treatment by law enforcement in the so-called war on drugs.
If legislators don't pass bills regulating marijuana legalization, the drug will remain illegal — even if the Jan. 1 effective date of the legal weed ballot question passes, according to one constitutional law expert.
More than two-thirds of New Jersey voters cast ballots to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana, the most impactful — but not final — step toward the state legalizing the drug for recreational purposes.
The state Attorney General’s Office today instructed local prosecutors to either dismiss or adjourn any pending low-level marijuana cases. The directive comes weeks after a super-majority of voters approved a ballot question calling on lawmakers to legalize the adult-use marijuana market.
In a two-page message to other top law enforcement officials that was shared with Marijuana Moment, Jon-Henry Barr, the municipal prosecutor for the Township of Clark, said that he appreciated that state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) released guidance stipulating that police and prosecutors “should exercise discretion” in pursuing marijuana cases.
New Jersey residents voted to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana earlier this month. But until state legislators work out the details of the Garden State’s new industry, possession of marijuana remains illegal.
Nearly three weeks after Ballot Question No. 1 was passed, there are still dozens of people who have been arrested for possessing cannabis – victims of laws that are still on the books while lawmakers debate the new rules.
Carly Wolf, NORML’s State Policies Coordinator also added: “Because Question 1 is a non-binding, legislatively referred ballot question, the New Jersey legislature must now take immediate action to draft and implement enabling legislation in a manner that is in accordance with voters’ sentiments. Their first priority should be bringing about an end to the tens of thousands of low-level marijuana possession arrests that occur each year in New Jersey.