What NJ CAN 2020 Accomplished

Led by the ACLU-NJ and our partners, NJ CAN 2020 was a nonpartisan electoral campaign that united leaders with a range of experience - in public safety, medicine, civil rights, faith leadership, the cannabis industry, law, labor, politics — to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adult use emphasizing racial equity, social justice, and inclusion. NJ CAN 2020 was formed with the mission of getting a “YES” vote on the 2020 ballot question to legalize marijuana in New Jersey — and New Jerseyans passed it with historic margins and with racial justice in mind. The group campaigned using a range of tactics, including video ads, live events, direct mail, online advocacy, polling, and other strategies.

More than 67 percent of voters said yes to legalizing cannabis — the most of any state that had put it on the ballot. Polling indicated that New Jerseyans weren’t voting just to legalize cannabis, but that they did so in large part for racial and social justice.

What New Jersey Achieved with Legalization and Why It Matters

Marijuana arrests had long been a civil rights crisis in our state.

Black people in New Jersey were arrested at a rate 3.5 times higher than white people for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates. Only by eliminating these arrests could we even begin to address the harms of the drug war and the devastating impact on Black and brown communities.

After the Vote: Cannabis Implementation with Racial and Social Justice

After the ballot question, the Legislature was tasked with putting legalization and decriminalization into law.

ACLU-NJ and other racial and social justice partners — including some that had been involved in NJ CAN 2020 and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, a coalition founded in 2015 to unite a range of advocates and experts in various fields in a call for legalization rooted in social justice, as well as others — went on to work on enabling legislation to ensure that racial and social justice were centered in New Jersey’s legalization and decriminalization laws.

On Feb. 22, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy — who had participated in a live NJ CAN 2020 discussion about the need for legalization — signed into law one of the nation’s most forward-looking plans for legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana, with many recommendations for the laws themselves and for their attendant regulations coming directly from the ACLU-NJ and partners.

How NJ’s Cannabis Legalization Breaks New Ground

New Jersey's law and its implementation regulations broke new ground by:

  • Dedicating 100 percent of a cultivator social equity excise fee on and almost 60 percent of sales tax for reinvestment in communities most harmed by aggressive enforcement of prohibition.
  • Issuing a groundbreaking decriminalization framework that allows possession up to 6 ounces and resulted in the expungement of more than 360,000 prior marijuana records.
  • For youth use, adopting a framework that better centers public health in addressing young people's usage of cannabis and alcohol, rather than a harsh punitive model.
  • Granting priority review for social justice license applicants: “minorities, women, and disabled veterans” as laid out in the law, people who live in low-income areas, and people with previous marijuana convictions.
  • Not imposing arbitrary caps on most licenses and not putting caps on the number of microbusiness licenses.
  • Setting out strict anti-corruption rules that prohibit money in exchange for preference in licenses, with enforcement built in.
  • Making state application fees more accessible, with costs between $500 and $2,000, much lower than other states.

What’s Next for NJ: Keep Informed About Cannabis Implementation

To learn about the current status of implementation, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission — the government agency responsible for overseeing cannabis regulation — can provide information about New Jersey’s cannabis marketplace, including how to get a license to sell.

Partners in the Campaign

Members of NJ CAN 2020 included: ACLU-NJ, Acreage Holdings, Action Together New Jersey, American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, Archer & Greiner, Blue Wave New Jersey, Blue Wave Bergen County, Blue Wave Essex County, Blue Wave Hudson County, Blue Wave Middlesex County, Blue Wave Passaic County, Blue Wave Union County, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Drug Policy Action & Drug Policy Alliance, Latino Action Network, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, NAACP New Jersey, New Approach PAC, New Jersey CannaBusiness Association,  New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, NJ-08 For Progress, NORML, Porzio Governmental Affairs, Progressive Democrats of America, Scotts Miracle Gro, SSDP, UFCW Local 152, UFCW Cannabis Workers Rising, Viola Brands, Weedmaps,  and more.