The Garden State’s voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize personal marijuana use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in February of 2021 Governor Phil Murphy signed a cannabis legalization bill that became law. It took a while but finally in August the regs were set by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to allow for cannabis use for people 21 years of age or older, if it is being used on private property and is six ounces or less.
Dianna Houenou is the chair of the Commission and has gone on record suggesting retail sales won’t begin until 2022. Previous to the CRC she was Policy Counsel with the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union-NJ.
One of the reasons for the law is to combat unjust incarceration, mostly of people of color. “Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” Murphy had said. “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible. I signed three bills that will fulfill the promise of the constitutional amendment,” he concluded.
Legalizing adult use possession in small amounts, limiting the use of previous marijuana convictions, and creating the carefully regulated cannabis marketplace will be an economic boon to the state say economists and legalization activists.
While on the Ebro Laura Stylez Rosenberg show on Hot 97 radio, Murphy said that the legalization of cannabis will stop kids, especially those of color, from becoming entangled in the justice system but it will also set laws into place that will prohibit children from getting access to cannabis.
“Dealing with folks who have previously been entangled in the criminal justice system is priority number one,” said Houenou. “We can’t legalize this substance and then let people continue to languish for prior behavior. So, anybody who has been convicted or charged for marijuana related offenses, those convictions are automatically expunged. If you are currently serving a sentence for marijuana related offense, automatically vacated! We wanted to do this without burdening those individuals. So, there is no application required. You don’t have to lift a finger, it’s on the courts in the state of New Jersey to do what’s right for our people.
“I’m going to be working with my team to set up the actual industry and setting the rules and regulations that will govern operating a legal business in New Jersey,” continued Houenou.
When asked how a local cannabis business would impact the communities which they are in, Houenou said, “Local communities are going to have a say here. They are going to have a voice to indicate whether they want a cannabis business in their jurisdiction or not. And from there the local zoning rules and permitting processes will take place to make sure we are not over burdening certain communities that are repeatedly marginalized and overburdened time and time again.”
The new laws and regulations surrounding legal cannabis use will prohibit public use of the substance. The laws also give law enforcement the necessary tools to deal with those who are driving under the influence of cannabis.
“We’ll be making sure that everybody understands what the expectations are, what the rules and regulations will be, we have to write those,” Houenou said. “We have to determine how many licenses we are going to make available and what the fees are going to be, what the application requirements are going to be, but all of that will be publicized heavily. We are going to be doing a lot of outreach efforts to make sure that the communities know when we are ready to get rolling.”