By Qur’an Hansford
The Garden State has a whole new meaning now.
The wait is finally over. New Jersey has officially become the 13th state in the United States of America to legalize marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy signed into law three bills putting into effect a ballot question overwhelmingly supported by voters last year.
Although stoners and potheads alike are lighting up with joy at this very exciting turn of events for New Jersey’s weed connoisseurs, the real exciting news is the hope for the decriminalization of marijuana and the freedom of those who have been jailed on petty charges.
New Jersey became the the first Mid-Atlantic state to renounce decades of weed arrests in favor of a program that focuses on wrongful marijuana charges led by social activists.
“It marks the end of tens of thousands of weed arrests annually and the beginning of a cannabis industry that could be an economic boom for the state and region,” according to NJ.com.
Currently, the only other states on the East Coast to legalize weed are Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Over three months after New Jerseyans voted to legalize weed, Murphy signed into law three bills that decriminalize and legalize marijuana for “adult use,” a term used to refer to any use of the drug without a medical marijuana card.
Many asked the question, “what took so long?” Well after the ballot question got enough votes (67% to be exact, according to NJ.com) the regulations needed to be put in place by the state. No regulations, no legal marijuana.
The legalization regulations have been held up for months while legislators debated things such as tax structure and penalties for underage marijuana users.
Here is what my pot patrons need to know.
According to NJ.com, under bill A1987, the use of or possession of up to six ounces of marijuana is decriminalized and comes without any penalties. There are also restrictions on how police officers can stop and search anyone who may be using or consuming marijuana.
You also cannot “legally” purchase marijuana in New Jersey without a medical marijuana card and, according to NJ.com, it will be at least months before any recreational marijuana sales begin.
Home grown marijuana is also a no. The bills Murphy signed do not include any provisions allowing people to grow weed at home. New Jersey is the only state with legal weed that does not allow its medical marijuana patients to grow, according to NJ.com.
Marijuana consumers can expect to pay $41.50 in taxes, a mark-up of about 12% , including a $10 social justice tax fee, according to NJ.com. But, as the cannabis industry grows, the marijuana price will likely drop. The sales and municipal tax rates will stay the same, but the social justice tax fee will increase to ensure that tax revenue still flows — specifically to communities of color.
A question I wondered myself was — where will my tax money go?
The laws Murphy signed into place emphasize three separate taxes on legal weed purchases.
“First, there is an enhanced state sales tax of 7%. Per the legal weed laws, 15% of this revenue will come off the top and be directed to ‘underage deterrence and prevention,’ specifically community groups who will use the money to educate children and young adults about the dangers of substance use,” said NJ.com.
Of the remaining 85%, 70% (or 59.5% of the total sales tax) will go toward one of 20 “impact zones,” cities with large Black and Latinx communities and high unemployment rates where marijuana laws were most strictly enforced, according to NJ.com.
The remainder of the sales tax revenue, about 25.5%, will go to the “general fund” — the state’s general tax coffers and budget.
“The second tax is the social justice excise fee, which will fluctuate between $10 and $60 depending on the average price of cannabis. Per the laws, 100% of this revenue will go toward the impact zones,” said NJ.com.
The third tax is an optional 2% sales tax which municipalities can levy on any marijuana business within its borders. This money goes directly toward the town’s budget and can be used at the will of the governing body.
When I voted for legal marijuana back in November, my reasoning was not only for the idea of legalization but for the safety of the Black and brown communities that are more likely to be affected by and criminalized for it. With this legalization it would mean fewer people facing jail time for nonviolent offenses and clear records of those with past weed convictions. Those arrest records are hurdles for people applying to jobs, loans and public housing.
Police in New Jersey arrest more people for marijuana possession than every other state except for Texas and New York, according to the FBI arrest data. Black people are arrested at a rate more than three times higher than white people, although people of both races use marijuana at similar rates.
Marijuana reform advocates have long denounced weed laws for their disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities.
No more “what-ifs” and think pieces on whether weed should be legal or not, the time is now for tangible reform.
This editorial expresses the unanimous opinion of The Rider News Editorial Board. This week’s editorial was written by Opinion Editor Qur’an Hansford