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This photo shows Governor Phil Murphy as he signed a law to create a recreational marijuana market. | Edwin J. Torres / AP Photo

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy finally delivered on his 2017 election promise by signing a law on Monday legalizing cannabis for adults, decriminalizing possession of up to six ounces of the drug and codifying life-changing criminal justice reforms the way police officers interact with juvenile offenders. .

Despite New Jersey’s deep blue political backdrop and strong winds favorable to easing Reagan-era drug policies, Murphy, a progressive Democrat, nearly rejected the measures.

Adult consumption is backed by the state’s two most powerful lawmakers, and three months ago 67% of voters in the state supported a constitutional amendment saying New Jersey residents aged 21 and more should be allowed to sell and consume cannabis.

Despite this, New Jersey’s three-year odyssey to a regulated cannabis market nearly collapsed amid disagreements between Murphy, the main Democrats, and leaders of the black and Latino legislative caucuses over how to penalize children who were taken with a loose seal.

“There is no one who has supported these efforts who would not recognize that this process has taken much longer than expected, but it is certainly better to get it right rather than quickly,” Murphy said during a press briefing Monday, thanking Democratic lawmakers who “continued to work and speak even when things stopped”.

Murphy’s comments came an hour after the noon deadline for one action at a time on a legalization measure NJ A21 (20R) and a decriminalization bill NJ A1897 (20R), which were sent to his office on December 17. It was not until the Legislative Assembly passed a third juvenile sentencing bill on Monday morning, NJ A5342 (20R)/NJ S3454 (20R) – with just 20 minutes to spare – that Murphy put his signature on all three.

As a result, New Jersey became the 15th state to approve cannabis for recreational purposes.

“This process may have had its beginnings, but it is ending in the right place,” the governor said.

The “right place” is not liked by almost everyone involved.

“No one is happy and nothing is perfect. And let’s not let the pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the good, ”said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), main sponsor of the cannabis bills, shortly before the upper house votes, 23-12 , to send the bill to the governor. “It is a subject that must be put behind us.”

The protracted debate on juvenile sentences brought the legislature to a halt. The House pushed back the planned quorums twice to provide more avenues for negotiations, frustrating lawmakers who thought they had completed their work on cannabis legislation when they sent the legalization and decriminalization bills to Murphy in December.

Although Murphy’s team had worked closely with lawmakers on the legalization and decriminalization bills, it was not until after they were passed that administration officials discovered inconsistencies in the legislation that ‘they interpreted it as legalizing cannabis for children.

Under the legalization bill, people 21 and under caught with less than an ounce of cannabis could be charged with a minor disorder offense. But the decriminalization bill removed penalties for those under 21 caught in possession of marijuana – a term that would only apply to illegal products.

Some members of the legislature insisted that these decisions were deliberate, noting that it would discourage police interactions in minority communities where drug laws are disproportionately enforced. Murphy pushed back, telling reporters, “No one has ever, including yours really, talked about the legalization of marijuana, the recreational marijuana for kids. It was never in the cards.

Shortly before the New Year, the administration asked lawmakers to pass a third “clean-up” bill that would clarify juvenile sentences, sparking more than two months of intense negotiations that collapsed on several occasions as the state’s Democratic leadership struggled to reach consensus on how to discourage drug use among minors without being overly punitive.

In early February, as the talks sizzled, Murphy was preparation of conditional veto for the legalization and decriminalization bills, a move that would have chopped up one of his signature political initiatives and moved him further away from Democrats in the legislature.

It wasn’t until late last week that Senate Democrats began to reach consensus on language that would save the legalization campaign.

Depending on the language adopted, minors found in possession of both cannabis and alcohol would be subject to a series of formal and progressive warnings that could result in a referral to a community organization for advice or other services.

Additionally, law enforcement officials could be found guilty of depriving residents of their civil rights if they violated new rules for possession by minors. The smell of cannabis or alcohol will no longer be enough to justify a search. The same is true for “the undisguised possession” of an alcoholic beverage, marijuana, hashish or cannabis, depending on the text of the bill.

“When people laundered about the idea that it was just leisure money, and spoke through the idea that it was social equity and activism, it was our collective opportunity – all of us – to put words into action, ”said Sen Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), who was instrumental in developing the compromise measure. “This is how many of the principles of this cleanup bill were formulated.”

While the clean-up bill garnered adequate support in the Senate, some lawmakers held their noses in voting “yes”.

Republicans vigorously opposed the bill, and the powerful New Jersey Police Charity called it “anti-police.” Meanwhile, some of the state’s top black lawmakers, including black caucus chair of parliament Ron Rice and Senator Nia Gill (both from D-Essex), have said the legislation is not going enough away to hold law enforcement to account.

“We missed this process.” Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) said during Monday’s debate. “Before the law is even signed, we do our first cleanup bill.”

Despite this, lawmakers and administration officials on Monday expressed relief that New Jersey had finally come up with legislation that Murphy planned to sign more than three years ago in the first 100 days of his tenure.

While work in the Legislature is mostly done – Scutari has said more clean-up legislation is likely – New Jersey is still several months away from the first legal sale of cannabis.

Some provisions of the decriminalization bill took effect immediately – cold comfort for the thousands of New Jerseyers arrested for possession since the constitutional amendment passed on November 3 – but the legalization measure will take at least six to be implemented. months, Murphy said Monday.

The newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission, charged with overseeing both adult use and the medical marijuana markets, is to develop rules that will dictate the distribution of dispensary and grow licenses.

Licensing will come with its own timeline, and although existing medical clinics may sell recreational products under the new law, they do not have sufficient supplies to meet the needs of the 100,000 registered patients in the area. ‘State.

The economic boom that New Jersey officials might have expected as the premier adult-use market between Washington, DC and Boston is unlikely to materialize for years. And even then, as lawmakers in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island launch their own offers to legalize recreational marijuana, any benefit New Jersey would derive from it could be mitigated.

“We have gone too far without any action and look, based on the numbers, we have lost the opportunity to create jobs, we have lost income,” Ed DeVeaux of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association said in an interview. late. last week, adding that a reported 6000 people have been arrested for cannabis since New Jerseyans voted to legalize the drug in November. “We continued to hurt people.”

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