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TRENTON, NJ – Legislation to create a market for recreational marijuana, decriminalize cannabis, and relax sentences for underage drug and alcohol possession was enacted Monday by the Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, more than three months after voters overwhelmingly approved a voting question. legalize adult drug use.

The Democratic-led Assembly and Senate on Monday passed the last-minute measure to ease sentences for underage alcohol and marijuana possession in order to secure Democratic Governor Phil Murphy’s signature on the legislation that they had sent him in December.

Murphy faced a deadline to follow through on the December measures. He had previously said he supported the legislation, but delayed his signing for more than two months over fears that young people of color would still be arrested, running counter to his goal of undoing the effects of the war on drugs in black communities.

The governor had declined to detail why he delayed, but said he wanted to make sure young people, especially people of color, do not “get tangled up in our criminal justice system.”

The bill that was passed on Monday was key to gaining the governor’s support, lawmakers said.

The law subjects the possession of alcohol and marijuana to minors to written warnings that expand to include parental notification and referral to community services in the event of subsequent violations.

Currently, underage alcohol consumption is punishable by a fine of up to $ 1,000 and up to six months in prison.

Part of the legislation ensures that cities will no longer have the power to enact ordinances with civil penalties or fines regarding violations of possession or consumption by minors on private property, among other measures.

It also increases the liability of suppliers of cannabis articles to minors by making a third or subsequent offense a minor disorder offense.

The marijuana standoff stems from a November ballot question amending the constitution to allow recreational cannabis for those 21 and older that voters approved by a 2 to 1 margin.

The delay caused widespread frustration.

“This process has been a debacle from the start. The voters did their job, ”said Democratic Senator Paul Sarlo. He had opposed the legalization of marijuana, while being in favor of decriminalization. He voted to pass the bill on Monday because he said voters wanted lawmakers to move on and focus on COVID-19 relief.

Edmund DeVeaux, the head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said lawmakers and the governor are pushing through the legislation.

“Enough already. It is only in New Jersey that the will of the voters can be so cruelly ignored,” he said in a statement.

Some Republicans seemed dismayed to reduce sanctions.

“There are no consequences,” said Senator Bob Singer. “We’re now saying if you’re caught with a minor it’s a free pass.”

The sponsor of the Democratic bill, Senator Nicholas Scutari, also a city attorney, has challenged how well the current sanctions work and said the new law will keep young people – especially black youth – out of the criminal justice system.

The Market Legalization Bill enforces the state’s 6.625% sales tax, with 70% of profits going to areas disproportionately affected by marijuana-related arrests. Black residents were more likely – up to three times as likely – to face marijuana charges than white residents.

Cities may charge a tax of up to 2% as part of the measure.

Also under the bill, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be able to levy an excise tax, the amount of which will depend on the cost per ounce of cannabis. There will be four levels of tax under the bill, so if the cannabis is $ 350 or more, the tax per ounce will be $ 10. This goes up to $ 60 per ounce if the product’s retail price is less than $ 250.

The number of licenses for growers will be set at 37 for two years. The State Senate was not pushing for any limits, but the Assembly wanted the caps.

The decriminalization measure is necessary because state laws make possession a felony, despite the amendment approved by voters, according to lawmakers. The measure was adopted with broad bipartisan support.

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