Gov. Phil Murphy
By Joshua Burd
Adult use of cannabis is now legal in New Jersey, cementing a key piece of Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda and paving the way for what could be an impactful industry for commercial real estate.
Following several years of debate and recent voter support for the measure, Murphy on Monday signed into law a package of bills that legalize and regulate cannabis use and possession for adults 21 and older, while decriminalizing marijuana and hashish possession. He and other proponents have pursued the policies largely with social justice reform in mind, while also acknowledging the economic benefits of a regulated market for the drug.
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” Murphy said Monday. “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible.”
He noted that New Jersey voters last November supported a constitutional amendment to allow the creation of a regulated cannabis market, which has been a pillar of his agenda since he campaigned for governor in 2017.
“Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model,” Murphy added. “This legislation will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities, while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters.
“Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history. I’d like to thank the Legislature, advocates, faith leaders and community leaders for their dedicated work and partnership on this critical issue.”
Both policymakers and other stakeholders say it could still be months or even years before the industry is up and running. It also faces uncertainty tied to ongoing conflicts with federal law and likely opposition from some municipalities, but commercial real estate experts believe there will be opportunity for owners of retail and other types of commercial space.
See below for Real Estate NJ’s past coverage on how legal adult-use cannabis could impact the market:
- Roundtable: How can the New Jersey real estate sector prepare for the launch of legal recreational marijuana?
- Planting the seed: The time to prepare for legal cannabis is now, real estate experts say
- Editor’s note: A growth industry in the making
- Thinking green: The role of indoor farming in older industrial space
Monday’s milestone came despite staunch opposition from Republicans in Trenton and after internal debate among Democrats that nearly derailed the effort altogether. Murphy’s action also included signing a third bill, which clarifies marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for those under age 21, in a measure that helped resolve a key sticking point among policymakers.
Murphy’s team detailed the three newly signed bills as follows:
A21: Under the bill, the newly created Cannabis Regulatory Commission will create regulations to govern the medical and adult-use industries and oversee the applications for licensing of cannabis businesses. The legislation further provides for the Legislature to reinvest cannabis revenues in designated “impact zones,” directs the CRC to promote diversity and inclusion in business ownership and contains critical employment protections for people who engage in lawful behavior with respect to cannabis.
A1897: The measure reforms criminal and civil penalties for marijuana and hashish offenses, as well as provides remedies for people currently facing certain marijuana charges. It also prevents unlawful low-level distribution and possession offenses from being used in pretrial release, probation and parole decisions and provides certain protections against discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. Additionally, the bill creates a pathway to vacate active sentences for certain offenses committed before enactment of the enabling legislation.
S3454: The law clarifies penalties for marijuana and cannabis possession and consumption for individuals younger than age 21, while correcting inconsistencies in A21 and A1897 concerning marijuana and cannabis penalties for those underage.