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New Jersey Lawmakers Will Put Cannabis Legalization in the Hands of Voters in 2020

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It’s been a struggle for New Jersey lawmakers to agree on legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult use. The issue is one that Governor Phil Murphy promised to address during his campaign and legislators have continuously stalled when it comes to passing legislation. Instead of taking it upon themselves to legalize, they have now agreed to let the voters decide whether the state is ready for adult-use cannabis by voting to put the question on the 2020 ballot. 

“Putting the issue to a referendum is both sensible and equitable,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, a Democrat, said in a statement. “While not our preferred method of legislating, public questions allow voters to affirm or deny massive shifts in public policy.”

For the question to be put to voters as a constitutional amendment it required a three-fifths majority vote in both the Senate and Assembly. Luckily, 24 votes in the Senate and 49 votes in the Assembly were barely enough to reach this mark. If they hadn’t gotten enough votes, it would have had to wait another year, and receive at least a simple majority from both parties a second time before the question could be put on the ballot. 

The question voters will see in November 2020 would read like this

“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.”

If approved by voters, New Jersey would join 11 other states and D.C. in going against the federal government to end cannabis prohibition for a more common sense approach. Some who support legalization are disappointed that the state legislature decided to put a simple question to the voters, rather than passing more in-depth legislation from the start. Others are optimistic that 2020 will finally be the year that New Jersey legalizes cannabis after years of introducing legislation with little progress. 

While it might not be the way that many had wanted to see legalization happen in the state, the chances are good that voters will approve the ballot question. A Monmouth University poll from earlier in 2019 found that 62 percent of those questioned said they support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. That would be more than the majority needed to pass legalization. Now, New Jersey voters just have to wait for the 2020 election to make it happen.

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