Election 2020: New Jersey Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Legalizing Marijuana
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Voters have spoken, overwhelmingly passing a resolution to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
Sixty-seven percent of New Jersey said yes to the ballot measure.
A big election brought forth historic change in the Garden State.
“I think it’s amazing. I think it’s good for our economy,” one person said.
“This is a tremendous victory in New Jersey,” said Steven Hawkins of the Marijuana Policy Project.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reports, the Garden State is officially going green, but not so fast.
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Hawkins’ organization helped with getting the initiative passed. He says now that it ha been approved by voters, it’s time for guidelines to be put in place.
“The next steps will be that the Legislature perhaps as early this Thursday in New Jersey will move to pass legislation to implement a cannabis commission and set up a regulatory system for taxing cannabis and then we could see very early in the next year cannabis starting to be sold for adult use in New Jersey,” Hawkins said.
Recreational pot becomes in January, but you won’t be able to buy it right away.
“Realistically, the timeline is anywhere from six months to a year,” said industry expert Mike McQueeny. “You have to grow it before you can package it and sell it. On top of that, you have to create regulations and rules to do that safely.”
It took Massachusetts and other states more than two years to set up the industry.
Those already in the medical marketplace will be the first allowed to sell to the general consumer. The problem: Growers in New Jersey do not have enough cannabis available to meet the needs of patients, let alone any other buyers.
“I hope they’re out there tilling soil right now. So as soon as they have enough product, they’ll be able to sell,” said State Sen. Nicholas Scutari.
Now that New Jersey has voted to legalize marijuana, the state Legislature can start establishing industry standards and deciding where the revenue goes.
Scutari is writing the bill and says marijuana in New Jersey will have the lowest tax rate in the country at less than seven percent, and will allow an extra two percent local tax, giving additional revenue to municipalities that decide to allow facilities in their town.
“We create an economic engine for this state moving forward, but not just taxation but with job creation,” Scutari said.
But the impact is more than extra money for the state.
“The economic impact it will have on our state. The job creation. The farming jobs, the tilling jobs, the bud tenders, the sales jobs, the architects,” Scutari said.
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Dr. Diane Calello with New Jersey Poison Control Center says the state’s focus needs to be on safety. Edibles must be properly packaged and labeled.
“Not only kids like to eat, not realizing it’s cannabis, but it’s also the thing that makes adults take some, not experience an effect, take more, take more, take more and then get hit with a big dose of THC or marijuana unexpectedly an hour or two in,” Dr. Calello said.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal reminds people that all of the state’s criminal laws relating to street purchases of marijuana still apply, though some state legislators are looking to decriminalize cannabis right away.
There is opposition. More than 70 municipalities signed a pact not to allow dispensaries in their towns, and the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police cite concerns about drug impaired driving and the toxicity of today’s marijuana.
“I think we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said John Zebrowski, the police chief in the town of Sayerville and serves as vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
The organization has some concerns about the legalization of marijuana and how it will impact the safety of people on roads.
“The issue of impairment is still one that has not been answered. There isn’t a comprehensive or comparable device available to utilize to show impairment, as there is for alcohol at this point,” Zebrowski said.
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As Zebrowski waits to see how policing will move forward, some are hoping bordering states like New York will legalize marijuana, too. Currently, a New York senator is pushing for it to be legalized with a bill detailing how it can be regulated and taxed.
“All New York is saying if we don’t legalize is, fine, New Jersey, we’ll come to you and we’ll spend our money over there,” Sen. Liz Krueger said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both said they’re in favor.
“It has to be done the right way in New York. It has to be done in a way that’s safe and that empowers communities who often have suffered from the wrong king of laws in the past,” de Blasio said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted his support, saying legalizing adult use marijuana is a huge step forward for racial and social justice and for the economy. Legalizing bud was one of his campaign promises.
“This is a state, when we came in to office, had the widest white/non-white gap of persons incarcerated in America, and that’s overwhelmingly because of low-end drug crimes,” Murphy said.
Black people in New Jersey are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people.
Safeer Quraishi is with the NAACP local chapter in New Jersey.
“We’re advocating for those who are incarcerated for small drug offenses to be released immediately,” Quraishi told CBS2’s Ali Bauman.
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To date, more than 65% of voters answered "yes" to question No. 1 on the ballot supporting the constitutional amendment to legalize the possession and recreational use of marijuana.