On December 16, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a resolution placing a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the ballot for November 3, 2020. New Jersey would be the 12th state and the first Mid-Atlantic state to legalize marijuana.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization in the 2017 gubernatorial election. When Murphy was elected, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) said his goal was to get a marijuana legalization law passed within 100 days of Murphy’s term. However, the state legislature did not pass legislation to legalize marijuana in 2018 or 2019. On May 15, 2019, Sweeney stated there were not enough votes to pass marijuana legalization. “There’s no sense dragging this out,” he said. On November 18, 2019, Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22) announced a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Gov. Murphy said, “… I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November.”
In New Jersey, there are two avenues for the state Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. First, the legislature can refer an amendment to the ballot through a 60 percent vote of both chambers during one legislative session. Second, the legislature can refer an amendment through a simple majority vote (50%+1) in each legislative chamber during two successive legislative sessions.
Legislators took the first path, with 60 percent of legislators in each chamber approving the resolution. In the state Senate, the vote was 24-16. In the state Assembly, the vote was 49-24. The vote made the New Jersey State Legislature the first in the country to ask voters to legalize recreational marijuana. All other marijuana legalization measures were put on the ballot through signature petition drives, a process not available in New Jersey. State legislatures in Illinois and Vermont legalized marijuana without ballot measures.
The constitutional amendment would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, also known as cannabis, for persons age 21 and older. Marijuana would be subject to the state sales tax (6.625 percent), but additional state excise taxes on marijuana sales would be prohibited. The ballot measure would authorize the legislature to allow local governments to enact an additional 2 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. The state Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) would be responsible for regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of marijuana. The ballot measure would not provide additional specifics; rather, the legislature and CRC would need to enact additional laws and regulations.
While the New Jersey constitutional amendment is the first legalization measure to make the 2020 ballot, it may not be the last. There could be marijuana legalization ballot measures in several states, including Arizona and South Dakota. The measure in Arizona would be a second attempt for legalization proponents, as an initiative was defeated in 2016. Signatures were submitted for a South Dakota ballot initiative at the beginning of November and are in the process of being verified.
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