In 2021, New Jersey legalized and decriminalized cannabis — a policy shift that came after years of community members and advocates calling attention to the decades of harm caused by the racially disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition. In implementing cannabis legalization, New Jersey can be a national leader in prioritizing reinvestment in communities most harmed by prohibition and creating an inclusive, equitable, and diverse cannabis marketplace from the start.   

This new approach following a decades-long regime of prohibition — marked by aggressive, racially discriminatory enforcement — is bound to have growing pains and bound to raise questions. The ACLU-NJ has answers to some frequently asked questions about what the new cannabis laws mean, and what to expect. 

What's the difference between "cannabis" and "marijuana"?

A.What's the difference between "cannabis" and "marijuana"?


In the law, “cannabis” refers to marijuana from licensed cannabis businesses, which is legalized. “Marijuana” refers to cannabis purchased outside of the regulated market, which is decriminalized.

What do the new cannabis laws do?

A.What do the new cannabis laws do?


Legalization created a new, regulated cannabis industry for adults 21 and over to buy cannabis, overseen by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), a state agency formed to set rules and monitor the new marketplace, including licensing, product safety, and revenue. The rules and regulations developed by the CRC to implement cannabis legalization can be viewed here.  

Decriminalization ended arrests, along with civil and criminal penalties, for marijuana. 

People will no longer face penalties for possession of less than 6 ounces of marijuana or 17 grams of hashish. For those with over the decriminalized amount, they will be issued a complaint-summons, and cannot be arrested, detained, or otherwise taken into custody. 

Police can no longer use the odor of marijuana to justify a stop or search, for adults or for youth. 

People with marijuana-related records have new protections against discrimination, and new resources to expunge records and dismiss pending charges. 

What are the consequences for people under 21 with cannabis?

A.What are the consequences for people under 21 with cannabis?


The new laws shift away from criminal penalties and fines for public possession of both cannabis and alcohol if you’re under 21 years old, with an emphasis on providing community support rather than punishment.  

For a first offense, you get a written warning from the police. If you're under 18, parents or guardians will be notified.

For a second offense, you will receive another warning and information about community-based services. If you're under 18, parents or guardians will be notified.

For a third or a subsequent offense, you will receive a warning. If you’re between 18-20, you'll also receive a written referral to community-based services. If you're under 18, your parent or guardian will be notified and will receive a referral to social services.

Schools and K-12 facilities can still administer discipline based on cannabis and alcohol.

Where does the tax revenue from cannabis sales go?

A.Where does the tax revenue from cannabis sales go?


The legalization law directs a significant portion of tax revenue and all revenue from the social equity excise fee to fund community supports and services in impact zones. 

For the sales tax: 15 percent will go to the Underage Deterrence and Prevention account to fund community programs that support youth with social services as well as educational, recreational, and work opportunities. This funding will be allocated by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.  

Of the remaining 85 percent: 

  • 70 percent of sales tax will go to community reinvestment in municipalities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, as determined by the New Jersey Legislature  
  • 30 percent will go to fund the operations of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and drug recognition expert training for law enforcement 

Municipalities can implement a 2 percent tax on cannabis, and each municipality will be able to determine the use of the revenue raised through their budget process. 

In addition to tax revenue, 100 percent of the revenue raised through a new social equity excise fee (SEEF) on cultivators will also go to fund community reinvestment. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is required to hold public hearings to develop its recommendations to the New Jersey Legislature on how revenue from the SEEF should be used. In June 2022, the CRC recommended that revenue from FY 2022 and FY 2023 (projected to be almost $3.7 million) be used to support grants and low-interest loans to aspiring entrepreneurs from impact zone municipalities and economically disadvantaged areas. It is unclear if these recommendations have been adopted and implemented as they were not submitted in time to impact the FY 2023 budget. 

You can read more about how New Jersey can create a meaningful community reinvestment process that centers the voices of community members most harmed by criminalization here.   

How can New Jersey create an inclusive, equitable, and diverse cannabis marketplace?

A.How can New Jersey create an inclusive, equitable, and diverse cannabis marketplace?


The ACLU-NJ is urging the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to prioritize racial justice and build equity as it develops the framework of New Jersey’s cannabis industry. This includes supporting those who have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis criminalization by providing start-up capital and in-kind support when opening businesses, prioritizing business applications, setting inclusive hiring requirements across the industry, and more. You can read our recommendations here.

How can I get a marijuana record expunged?

A.How can I get a marijuana record expunged?


Fortunately, New Jersey’s judiciary system has expunged over 360,000 marijuana-related records as a result of the State’s new decriminalization law.  The charges eligible for expungement can be viewed on the Administrative Office of the Court’s website.

But, to verify it was successfully processed, you have to submit a form in person - either at the court where the charge took place or the Superior Court Clerk’s Office, located in Trenton. To get an expungement certification, you can also submit the form to any municipal court or any Superior Court.  

The instructions are on page 10, and the form is on page 14 of this PDF.  

If your case has not been expunged, vacated, or dismissed, and you believe it should have been, please refer to this PDF for next steps.  

When and where can I buy cannabis?

A.When and where can I buy cannabis?


The first cannabis sales started in New Jersey on April 21, 2022. Currently, the only cannabis businesses licensed to sell adult-use cannabis are a number of businesses previously licensed by the state to sell medical marijuana. A list of retail locations can be found here.  

Will drivers be penalized for cannabis in the same way as alcohol?

A.Will drivers be penalized for cannabis in the same way as alcohol?


In short, yes.

Do not drive under the influence of cannabis. The law for driving while intoxicated applies. Consequences include suspension of driving privileges, the installation of an ignition interlock device, and criminal penalties.

No open containers. Cannabis located in the main area of the car must be sealed in its original packaging. If unsealed, it must be in the trunk.

Can I smoke cannabis in public?

A.Can I smoke cannabis in public?


Generally, no. Cannabis dispensaries can create consumption areas for smoking, aerosols, and vaping, but fines range from $200 to $1,000 elsewhere. Edibles have no such limitations.

Can I lose my job for using cannabis?

A.Can I lose my job for using cannabis?


You can’t be fired for a positive test for cannabis, but, like any substance, jobs can prohibit drug use and intoxication at work.  

Employers that have reasonable suspicion of on-the-job use or intoxication can use traditional drug tests and physical evaluations to determine impairment. Employers can also randomly screen current and prospective employees. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has not yet released “workplace impairment recognition expert” regulations, but guidance to employers is anticipated in 2022. 

Can I be punished for selling marijuana?

A.Can I be punished for selling marijuana?


Although you can’t be arrested for any amount of simple possession or for selling less than an ounce of marijuana, there are still some criminal and civil penalties associated with selling outside the regulated market or if you possess more than 6 ounces.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s interim guidance provides more details.

Can I grow cannabis at home for my personal use?

A.Can I grow cannabis at home for my personal use?


No, New Jersey law does not allow people to grow cannabis at home for their own personal use. The only authorized growing of cannabis will be by businesses with cannabis cultivator licenses – but advocates are working to change that.

Email if you want to get directly involved.

Can I be penalized for marijuana use if I'm under pretrial supervision, on parole, or on probation?

A.Can I be penalized for marijuana use if I'm under pretrial supervision, on parole, or on probation?


There are different rules for pretrial release, parole, and probation. When possession is not prohibited, it is only for the “lawful” amount of cannabis – up to 1 ounce.

  • Pretrial release: Marijuana use is not prohibited while on pretrial release. In addition, a prior marijuana-related charge will not be considered by the Courts when determining eligibility for pretrial release.
  • Probation: Marijuana possession is not prohibited while under probation supervision, and cannot be used to revoke probation supervision.
  • Parole: Marijuana use and possession cannot be prohibited as a condition of parole release and cannot be used to revoke parole release.

I want to start a cannabis business. How do I get a license?

A.I want to start a cannabis business. How do I get a license?


The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) will have six types of licenses available: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer, and delivery. For small businesses, microbusiness licenses will be available. 

In the first 24 months of legalization, the CRC will grant up to 37 cultivation licenses for medical and adult-use, though more will be available for microbusinesses. The CRC will determine the number of other licenses to issue overall. 

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is prioritizing the review of applications from diversely owned, social equity (applicants previously criminalized for marijuana), and impact zone businesses, and are approving applications for conditional licenses on a rolling basis. So far, applications for cultivator, manufacturer, and retail licenses have been opened. More information on the CRC’s licensing process is available here.  

In addition to CRC licensing at the state-level, many municipalities have passed ordinances that cap the number of licenses available within the jurisdiction, levy additional fees, and establish other rules. To learn more, contact the municipality in which you are interested in operating a cannabis business.  

Can I use cannabis if I am a noncitizen?

A.Can I use cannabis if I am a noncitizen?


Though New Jersey has legalized and decriminalized cannabis, marijuana possession and use are still prohibited federally. Possession of over the decriminalized amount of cannabis or the sale of cannabis can result in new charges that will likely negatively impact immigration proceedings and future access to benefits  

Prior marijuana records – even if expunged in New Jersey – can still adversely affect noncitizens. If you are in ongoing immigration proceedings, we encourage you to speak with your attorney.  

In addition, it is important to note that employment within the cannabis industry can pose risk to noncitizens as several immigration forms require disclosure of employment information. 

For more information on this issue, please refer to this guide on immigrants and marijuana from the Immigration Legal Resource Center.