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New Jersey Legalizes Marijuana for Adults

What will getting high legally in New Jersey look like?

Residents of New Jersey overwhelmingly passed Public Question 1 on the 2020 ballot, which approved an amendment to the state’s constitution to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and over. The amendment will go into effect January 1st, 2021. But If you think come the New Year you can blissfully puff away in public, not so fast, warns corporate and health care lawyer Lisa Gora. The marijuana you may already have in your possession does not magically become a legal substance.

“It’s important for the people of New Jersey to understand the current situation so that they don’t inadvertently engage in criminal conduct related to marijuana,” Gora says. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls like, ‘Hey! Marijuana is legal now, so what can I do?’ All that has changed in New Jersey as of right now is that marijuana is no longer an illegal substance under the eye of New Jersey law when used, sold or possessed in line with a regulated market, but there is no legal framework yet for the recreational adult-use cannabis market.” Gora also cautions that under federal law, marijuana is still an illegal substance. 

Gora says there are many steps that need to be taken before that framework is set up. The bottom line? No legal marketplace, no legal marijuana.

“While, yes, the amendment takes effect on January 1st, that doesn’t mean that anyone can do anything within the adult cannabis use market as of that date,” Gora says. “First enacting legislation needs to be approved by the New Jersey Legislature and then the regulatory framework must be established by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, an entity established by the state to oversee the New Jersey medicinal cannabis program and the recreational adult-use cannabis market.”

The Commission, which will include five appointed members, is not yet fully staffed, but Gora thinks by January 1st, all five appointees will be in place, allowing the group to move on to the next phase.

“Once that commission is fully appointed, it will develop the rules and regulations for how the new adult-use cannabis market will operate and be enforced in New Jersey,” Gora says.

How long will that take? Gora can’t be sure, but she says don’t count on being able to legally purchase recreational cannabis until 2022.

“I think a reasonable time line is that the market for sales might begin in the first quarter of 2022; in terms of a projection for the enabling legislation to be passed, I see that likely in spring of 2021,” she says. 

Next would come the first round of business licensing, which she thinks will possibly begin late 2021. 

“This is not something that’s going to be a quick turnaround,” she says.

While the proposed legislation, if made law, will (eventually) allow the 21-and-up crowd to purchase recreational cannabis from licensed dispensaries and cannabis retailers—or even have product delivered to them—the legislation does not speak to the criminal side of the equation.  

“There is a separate bill for that, which decriminalizes the possession, sale, and manufacture of up to a pound of cannabis, and also addresses pretrial release and probation for a drug charge, parole implications and more,” she says.

Consumers will find New Jersey’s current tax rate for medicinal marijuana at one of the lowest rates in the nation among states with similar legislation. 

“New Jersey currently has a 6.625 percent sales and use tax that will apply to future sales of recreational cannabis, and up to an additional 2 percent could be imposed on the sale of cannabis products by a municipality if a local ordinance implementing such a charge is approved,” she says. “This compares to some specific tax rates on cannabis in other states that exceed 30 percent, like the state of Washington. So for the consumer in New Jersey, this relatively low tax rate is a positive thing.”

If you have questions about recreational marijuana, an experienced cannabis law lawyer in New Jersey can help. For more information on this area of law, see our overview of cannabis law.

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