After decades of prohibition, legal marijuana has come to yet another state — and this time, it’s just across the Delaware River.
On April 11, New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission voted to allow the start of recreational cannabis sales in the state. New Jersey residents voted in favor of marijuana legalization in 2020, but the state needed time to set up the new system.
“New Jersey’s broken and indefensible marijuana laws are no more,” Gov. Phil Murphy said last year after signing three bills that legalized and decriminalized the drug. “We now have laws that will usher in a new industry based on equity; reinvest dollars into communities; and promote both public health and public safety.”
But as with changing cannabis laws throughout the country, what you can and can’t do is complicated. After all, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and no two states where it’s legal have the same approach.
So, when it comes to weed in New Jersey, how do the new laws work? And how can you buy legal pot? Here is what you need to know:
Is using marijuana a crime in New Jersey?
What does that mean? Here’s a primer: According to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, “regulated cannabis” is any form of the drug that you legally buy at a licensed store (those stores have not yet been set up for recreational pot).
And marijuana and hashish that you buy any other way have also been decriminalized, meaning it is no longer a crime to use or possess them, up to a certain amount.
Under the new law, if you’re an adult, the use or possession of up to six ounces of marijuana — or 17 grams of hashish — is no longer a crime. So there are no civil or criminal consequences for use or possession under those amounts, says Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. If you have more than that, though, it’s considered a fourth-degree crime — which can carry hefty fines and jail time.
Also no longer a crime:
Being under the influence of marijuana or hashish.
Possession of paraphernalia for marijuana or hashish.
Possession of marijuana or hashish when driving a car (driving under the influence, however, is still illegal).
There are also lower penalties for distributing marijuana and hashish, starting with a written warning for distributing one ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish for the first offense.
What if you’re under 21?
If you’re under 21 and caught in public with marijuana, the consequences are different. For a first offense, you will receive a written warning. The second offense will get you another, as well as information about “community-based supports and services,” and, if you’re under 18, your parents will be notified. Three or more offenses will also get you a referral to “community-based support.”
“These policies are profound — it’s not just possession, but distribution of small amounts, and it applies to all ages,” says Chris Goldstein, an activist and regional organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
When can I buy legal recreational marijuana?
Starting on April 21. The CRC has approved seven New Jersey medical cannabis companies, with 13 total locations, to sell recreational weed.Regulators have said that they will post a list on the commission’s website of the locations that will open next Thursday when the companies inform the CRC of their opening date. In all, the CRC has received more than 300 new applications from businesses looking to become adult-use cannabis retailers, so more stores should crop up in the future.
Here’s our breakdown of how New Jersey will handle sales of recreational marijuana.
Where can I smoke marijuana?
On your own property, or in the privacy of your own home. Marijuana is legal and decriminalized in the state, but you can’t smoke it anywhere you want. Indoor and outdoor public use is limited in the law, so don’t expect to spark up at your local park or at a concert venue (once those return).
New Jersey will also be setting up “cannabis consumption areas,” either indoors or a structure attached to places that sell legal cannabis.
“The way to think about it is that it’s not that dissimilar from how smoking [tobacco] and alcohol in public places is governed right now,” Kachalia says.
Am I allowed to grow my own weed, too?
No. There are no provisions in the law that allow you to grow your own, whether you’re a medical cannabis patient or a recreational user.
Growing your own can carry stiff penalties, depending on the amount of marijuana and the number of plants. For example, Politico reports, having even a single marijuana plant is considered a third-degree crime, and can carry a sentence of three to five years in prison. If you have 10 plants or more than five pounds, it can be prosecuted as a first-degree crime, and carry a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.
Can I get fired for smoking marijuana if it’s legal?
Yes and no — and, of course, it can get complicated. But New Jersey’s marijuana laws do allow employers to drug test current and prospective employees — and they can still discipline you if you possess or use marijuana on the job, or come to work impaired.
However, Kachalia says, there likely can’t be any “adverse employment consequence” — like getting fired — if you fail a drug test for marijuana in many cases. Your employer would need to prove that you were under the influence at work. Employers can do that by having you physically examined by a Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert to determine if you are impaired on the clock — though, as the Asbury Park Press points out, the process is not exactly clear.
For some professions, there may be rules that totally prohibit you from using marijuana even off the clock, such as if you work for the federal government, or at a job that must follow certain federal regulations.
How does legal marijuana change policing in Jersey?
Most significantly, New Jersey’s new laws no longer allow police to use the odor of marijuana by itself as a reason to search you or your property, regardless of your age. Historically, the smell of weed has often been used to establish a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to escalate a police interaction, Kachalia says — particularly in communities of color.
In fact, 2018 data from the ACLU indicates that Black people are 3.45 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in New Jersey, despite similar rates of use. That’s an overall state average; in some counties, the disparity is 13 times, Kachalia says. And, Ward notes, Black people often face harsher sentences.
“The hope is that these provisions will prevent the overpolicing of Black and brown communities in giving law enforcement a tool to discriminate and bring about injustice,” Ward says. “By eliminating this tool that’s been used in this way, I think that it will mean fewer pretextual stops, fewer arrests.”
And, if you’re under 21, the law now says police can’t ask for your consent to search you for cannabis. That change adds “another layer of protection in terms of preventing interaction between police and youth,” Kachalia says. And, according to a memo from the attorney general, officers who violate this “may be charged criminally with depriving the individual of their civil rights.”
What if I have a cannabis-related criminal record?
More than 30,000 marijuana-related arrests are made in New Jersey every year, says Goldstein, so this affects a lot of people.
There are some anti-discrimination protections if you have a cannabis-related criminal record, as well as restorative justice approaches that can help you have your records expunged, sentence reviewed, or pending charges dismissed.
If you have a marijuana-related record, you can’t be fired or denied a job because of that record, Kachalia says. And, Ward says, those records can’t be used to “deprive rights or privileges under the law,” which includes things like driver’s licenses, professional licenses, housing assistance, social services, custodial rights, and adoptive or foster parent rights.
And, if you have a record for a range of cannabis-related charges, it may have been expunged in July 2021, when the state’s Marijuana Decriminalization Law took effect. To see if your case was expunged, you can go to the court where your case was heard and ask for confirmation. Confirmation, the New Jersey Courts system says online, must be requested in person.
“Those arrests weren’t just New Jersey residents, but also people from Philly and Delaware and New York. If you got popped in Camden, you can get that record off,” Goldstein says. “That’s a big deal. Not just for New Jersey, but for the region. All kinds of people are arrested for this here.”
And the new law will help people who are serving time or under supervision, too. “If someone is serving a sentence or ongoing supervision because of those charges, they are actually vacated through administrative action by the courts,” she says.
How will legal weed help communities?
New Jersey’s new legislation also carves out money from cannabis sales that will go back to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. Known as “impact zones,” these municipalities are determined by factors such as rate of unemployment, crime index, and rate of marijuana-related arrests.
“What the legislation does is it says these municipalities face disproportionate harms as a result of our prior cannabis laws, and should now see some benefit from the revenue raised from this shifting approach to cannabis in New Jersey,” Kachalia says.
Impact zones will receive funding from two sources. One is a fee paid by cannabis growers— 100% of which will go to funding community services and supports in impact zones. And about 60% of sales tax revenue from legal cannabis will go toward those same resources, Kachalia says.
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This article has been updated since it first published.