After years of campaign promises and fighting within the legislature, lawmakers have cleared the way for a question to be added to next year’s ballot to decide whether or not the citizens of New Jersey want to legalize cannabis for recreational use. While some are saying that a constitutional amendment will not cover as much ground as opposed to a legislative bill, this will most likely be the only chance citizens have to make their voices and votes be heard on the issue.

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What is Happening in New Jersey?

After a vote in both state houses of the New Jersey legislature, it has been decided that the issue of legalizing marijuana will be left up to the voters. To get the question on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, both the state Senate and Assembly needed to approve it by either three-fifths majority in one year or by simple majorities in two consecutive years.

The measure passed the state Senate in a 24-16 vote at the Statehouse earlier this month, while the state Assembly voted 49-24. The 49 votes in the Assembly gave the house one more than needed to reach three-fifths, with the 24 votes in the Senate just managed to reach a three-fifths majority.

The question that will be put on the ballot reads: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”

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An interpretation of the ballot puts that the cannabis industry within the state would be run by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which oversees the medical marijuana program in the state. The rules and regulations of cannabis in the state would be later decided by the government if the vote passes.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made legalizing marijuana one of his campaign promises when he was elected nearly two years ago, however, infighting within the legislature has kept any progress from happening. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced in late November that he would not take the bill to the floor for a vote, but would instead try to put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

While the opportunity to legalize marijuana is coming to New Jersey, not everyone is happy, with putting that “supporters worry the brevity of a ballot question will fail to encompass topics like social justice and revenue in the depth legislation could have, while opponents feel lawmakers are punting their duty to the public after failed attempts to pass a law and placing the responsibility on citizens instead.”

Recreational Marijuana in New Jersey

Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to try and get marijuana legalized recreationally in the state. After the medical program was legalized earlier in the decade, a conservative controlled government took effect with then Gov. Chris Christie saying it “is beyond stupidity” and “nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything’s OK.” He went on to say that he would refuse to sign any legalization efforts into law.

After the Democrats regained control of the house, more efforts began to legalize marijuana, however, there were more than a dozen competing marijuana legalization laws that were trying to be passed and no consensus on which one was the best.  Since then, there have been numerous debates and attempts to see exactly how the program should roll out with undecided lawmakers and no clear frontrunner keeping any bill from being close to being passed.

After the nearly two year battle, Governor Phil Murphy declared that the vote to legalize marijuana would not happen in the legislature as the talks collapsed and no majority was made and that plans for a referendum were in effect.  New Jersey residents are for legalizing marijuana, according to polls done within the state. 60 percent of residents support legalization, while three-quarters of people polled support clearing past pot convictions for those in the state.

Medical Marijuana in New Jersey

New Jersey is one of the 33 states in the country with a medical marijuana program, with the state becoming the 14th at the time in January 2010 after outgoing Governor Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act into law on his last full day in office. The state program has over 45,000 patients currently, with another 2,000 being added every month.

The program is becoming more and more popular as well, with an expected 100,000 patients to be in the program in 2020. Those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorder, Lou Gherig’s disease, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, severe muscle spasms, inflammatory bowel disease, and terminal illnesses were allowed as conditions for those seeking a medical marijuana card, originally, while in March 2018, more conditions, including anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, and Chronic pain were added to the list of qualifying diseases for the medical marijuana program.