By Elliott Nguyen
Progress has stalled on the bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey after 67% of voters voted yes to the ballot question in November of 2020, according to NJ.com.
State lawmakers are currently at odds with Gov. Murphy over the enforcement of the age requirement for the substance which as of now is set at 21 — the same age requirement for tobacco. The deadline for the current bill is approaching, at which point the governor would either have to sign it or veto it. A veto would set legislators back to square one.
According to Radio.com, state senators rejected a previous iteration of the bill that included punishments for underaged users. Especially opposed are those in communities with large minority populations due to concerns about mass incarceration. As was reported by NJ.com, Gov. Murphy supports such measures and has rejected numerous bills in the past that did not include significant penalties for underage possession, hence the standoff.
Notable Trenton marijuana salesman Ed Forchion, known as “NJ Weedman,” has long been against the bill, claiming it will further perpetuate racial inequality. “Throw a couple of bones to people they call minorities … But there will be no room for black marketeers or a felon like me,” Forchion said in an October interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Another point of debate is whether or not the state should legalize recreational home growing of marijuana. Conservative Sen. Gerry Cardinale proposed a bill for such a purpose, according to Politico, but it has been met with staunch resistance from Gov. Murphy and the legislature alike. Growing a single plant is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.
“We don’t restrict people from growing tomatoes because it’s a legal substance,” Cardinale said. “To make marijuana an exception seems to me to only be able to create a private center for the people who are getting the licenses.”
The state legislature is not the only branch having difficulty with its expansion of the weed industry. Amanda Hoover of NJ.com reported that “a three-judge appellate court panel heard arguments Tuesday in a case that has stalled the expansion of the New Jersey’s burdened medical marijuana program.”
The case began when eight applicants for medical marijuana filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health arguing that their applications were wrongfully rejected, and it has prevented the state from reviewing new applications for licenses.
Several students at the College shared their thoughts on the bill and its debates.
“It’s beneficial but not to us. It’s a corporate scheme to create corporate distribution and steal money from impoverished communities,” said Seva Galant, a junior health and exercise science major. “With its tight parameters of who can distribute legally and who can’t, it replaces a taboo with a gateway which institutional injustice is constructed.”
He also spoke on the bill’s impact on his fellow students. “The majority of us aren’t wealthy and are being excluded from another financial boon.”
James Ottomanelli, a sophomore African American studies major, spoke of a similar sentiment.
“When I think of marijuana, I think of mass incarceration,” he said. “By and large, the laws that are on the books are outdated and they were intentionally written to incarcerate people of color primarily, but really, poor people in general.”
He recalled a time the issue hit close to home. “I have a friend that got caught selling…our freshman year of high school. He’s not wealthy by any means, and he can’t even afford to get his record expunged. Which is unfortunate …There’s too many people in jail for it, and that’s a goddamn tragedy.”