New Jersey lawmakers have abandoned their efforts to revive legislation to legalize recreational cannabis. Instead, voters will likely get to decide in November 2020.

According to Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Nicholas Scutari, while they had “made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively,” the “votes just aren’t there.” Instead, they are pursuing a resolution that would allow New Jersey residents to approve legalization as a constitutional amendment.

“We are moving forward with a plan to seek voter approval to legalize adult-use marijuana in New Jersey,” the lawmakers stated in a press release. “We introduced legislation today to authorize a public referendum for a proposal that will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”

Cannabis Legalization Via Constitutional Amendment

The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize the growth, cultivation, processing, manufacturing, preparing, packaging, transferring, and retail purchasing and consumption of cannabis, or products created from or which include cannabis, by persons 21 years of age or older. However, it includes a few details on how the legal cannabis market would operate.

The resolution does provide that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which was created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program, would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. In addition, all retail sales of cannabis products in the new adult cannabis market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, but no other form of tax. Below is the text of the ballot question that would go before voters:

"Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?"

“Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal-use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”

What’s Next?

Both houses of the New Jersey Legislature must now vote on the resolution. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin issued a press statement supporting the resolution. “We plan to pass the measure this year and next in order for New Jerseyans to have the opportunity to make the decision in November 2020 when we expect voter turnout to be high due to the presidential election,” he said.

If the resolution gathers at least three-fifths of both the Senate and the Assembly, the proposed cannabis amendment will go before voters, likely in November 2020. Placing the referendum on the ballot during a presidential election year is expected to generate high voter turnout. According to polls, a majority of New Jersey residents support legalizing cannabis.

Gov. Murphy expressed disappointment that legalization could not be accomplished legislatively but expressed hope voters would get the job done. “[I] have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November,” he said. “By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for.” It is unclear how the cannabis amendment would impact Murphy’s ongoing discussions with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont regarding a “regional” approach to cannabis legalization.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.