Cannabis in the 2020 Election: Spotlight on New Jersey

By Jennifer Cabrera

Oct 27, 2020

This is part 2 of our series of articles exploring the impact of the 2020 elections on the cannabis industry. This November 3, in addition to presidential and congressional elections that will have a major impact, five states have ballot measures that will legalize marijuana in some form. New Jersey is one of those states.

As of late October, New Jersey voters look poised to approve a ballot measure on election day that would amend the state constitution to permit adults 21 and older to use cannabis.

The Current State of Cannabis in the Garden State

The Garden State legalized cannabis for medical use in 2010, but its medical program suffered from years of neglect by the administration of former Governor Chris Christie.

Since Governor Phil Murphy assumed office in 2018, the number of medical patients increased five-fold. The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (Jake’s Law) passed in June 2019 overhauled New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, establishing the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) and creating a social equity program. This coincided with a request for applications for 24 medical licenses in August 2019. The status of these licenses and the formation of the CRC remains in limbo, however, as a lawsuit brought by rejected applicants winds its way through the court system.

There are twelve vertically integrated Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) licensed in New Jersey, nine of which are currently operational. 

Governor Murphy has also been pursuing adult-use legalization since his election. Despite multiple efforts by New Jersey’s Legislature, no single bill has been able to garner enough support in the state Senate and Assembly, leading lawmakers to approve the ballot question allowing voters to decide whether to amend the Garden State’s constitution.

What is in the Constitutional Amendment?

On the flip-side of their mail-in ballot, New Jersey voters will see Public Question 1, which asks:

Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

The amendment is not self-executing, however, requiring the Legislature to enact enabling legislation. It sets some limited parameters, including:

  • The five-member CRC (contemplated by Jake’s Law but yet to be formed) will oversee the adult-use market
  • Cannabis products will be subject to the State sales tax (currently 6.625%)
  • Municipalities may charge a local tax of up to 2%

NJ CAN 2020, the leading campaign in support of the amendment, has emphasized the social and economic justice aspects of legalization, in particular, the need for decriminalization during the wait for full legalization. This is significant in a state where more than 30% of its residents are non-white, and cannabis arrests are three times more likely for Black people in New Jersey than white people, despite similar rates of use.

What Does the Future Hold?

Polling suggests that voters support this amendment by a margin of 2 to 1. Assuming the measure passes on November 3, New Jersey’s Legislature must decide the next steps. Reports from Trenton indicate that Senate leaders are working on enabling legislation now.

Given the well-publicized efforts of neighboring states New York and Pennsylvania to also legalize cannabis legislatively, the pressure is on New Jersey to act quickly. As a small state that shares metropolitan areas with both of its larger neighbors, New Jersey’s commitment to low taxes could give its legal cannabis industry a competitive advantage.

It remains to be seen whether the state will implement a social equity program and expungement program, though both measures featured in past legislative efforts at legalization. In the meantime, it is a long wait for November 3.

Join us on November 19 for a post-election discussion with members of the Vicente Sederberg LLP and VS Strategies team. Learn more and register here for this timely event!

Check out the next post in the series, focused on medical marijuana in Mississippi.


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