In 2021, New Jersey legalized and decriminalized cannabis. These new laws have great potential to advance racial and social justice. But creating a brand new industry in place of 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 answers some frequently asked questions about what the new cannabis laws mean, and what to expect.
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 decriminalized.
Legalization created a new, regulated cannabis industry for adults 21 and over to buy cannabis, overseen by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a state agency to set rules and monitor the new marketplace, including licensing, product safety, and revenue.
Decriminalization ended arrests, along with civil and criminal penalties, for most adult possession of cannabis.
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.
When: It’s unclear. In other states that have legalized, it’s taken between six months to two years to get the new industry off the ground.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has up to 180 days from signing – around Aug. 21, 2021 – to issue its first rules and regulations for licensing.
Where: Existing medical cannabis sites can broaden to all adults, but only if they can meet the capacity for current patients.
For non-medical sites, the CRC will decide the number of licenses after assessing market demand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get directly involved.
Yes. For pending marijuana charges, the State has a deadline of July 1, 2021 to take action to dismiss them. The New Jersey Attorney General has already issued guidance to that effect.
For the expungement of prior marijuana records, the State also has until July 1, 2021 and the process will be led by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
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.
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 community programs that support youth with social services as well as educational, recreational, and work opportunities.
Of the remaining 85 percent:
- 70 percent of sales tax will go to community reinvestment in municipalities disproportionately harmed by prohibition
- 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 on cultivators will also go to fund community reinvestment.
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.
The CRC must prioritize applicants seeking to open businesses in “impact zones” – areas that have been disproportionately impacted by aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws – as determined by population, marijuana arrest rates, unemployment, and crime statistics.
In the first 24 months of legalization, the CRC will grant 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 legalization law requires the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to prioritize applicants interested in starting businesses in impact zones and 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.