New Jersey marijuana arrests outpace other states where recreational pot is legal

The number of marijuana arrests in New Jersey has declined significantly since the state legalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis for adults in 2021 but there continue to be more arrests here than in other states where pot is legal for recreational use.

New Jersey voted to legalize marijuana but Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that provides 20 years in prison for possession of marijuana.

Matthew G. Walter III, who appears in the inset with Governor Phil Murphy from the time of his arrest and here at the end of his jail term, was released from prison on February 17, 2022, after serving time for possession of marijuana.

After voters voted to legalize marijuana, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that made possessing 25 pounds of marijuana, 50 pot plants, or five pounds of hashish a first-degree crime with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

“The corrupt political establishment set up a system legalizing marijuana sales for rich corporations while leaving 20-year prison sentences in place for ordinary people,” explained Lisa McCormick, a Democrat who has frequently criticized leaders of her own party.

Matthew G. Walter III was sent to prison for possession of marijuana more than seven months after Governor Phil Murphy signed cannabis reform bills into law, that purportedly legalized cannabis use and possession in the Garden State.

The definition of “marijuana” in New Jersey is broader than in some other states.

In New Jersey, any part of the marijuana plant, including the seeds and stems, is considered to be marijuana. This means that people can be arrested for possessing even small amounts of marijuana, such as a few seeds or stems.

Police in New Jersey may be more likely to arrest people for marijuana possession than in states where marijuana is legal due to such factors as the officer’s personal beliefs about marijuana or the department’s policies on marijuana enforcement.

Racial disparities in marijuana arrests are also a factor. In New Jersey, Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate that is 3.5 times higher than white people, which suggests that law enforcement officers are more likely to target them for marijuana enforcement.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC) will begin accepting applications for wholesale, distribution, and delivery of recreational cannabis business licenses on September 27, 2023.

Ahead of that date, the NJ-CRC will host a webinar on September 14, to guide prospective applicants through the application requirements and procedures.

Social Equity and Diversely-Owned Businesses will be given priority review and approval as the application opens for an exclusive 90-day period – from September 27, 2023, to December 26, 2023.

While still accepting applications from Social Equity Businesses, applications from Diversely-Owned Businesses will begin to be accepted for another 90-day period from December 27, 2023, to March 26, 2024.

Beginning on March 27, 2024, the application process will open for all other applicants.

New applicants or existing operators looking to integrate their cannabis business vertically will be able to apply for business licenses in the three additional classes to join New Jersey’s burgeoning cannabis industry.

“The launch of these new cannabis business license classes represents a significant step in the continued growth and diversification of New Jersey’s cannabis industry,” said Commission Chairwoman Dianna Houenou. “We now have more medicinal and recreational businesses open, so applicants for these additional license classes have a more robust industry to serve. We are committed to fostering inclusivity, empowering local communities, and providing opportunities for those typically underrepresented who want to enter the cannabis industry.”

Jeff Brown, executive director of the NJ-CRC, noted, “Now that New Jersey’s market is on the cusp of 50 operational cannabis retailers, opening up applications for delivery services, wholesalers, and distributors will help New Jersey’s market serve consumers better.”

As of August 2023, of the 2,014 applications received by the NJ-CRC, almost 1,800 cure letters notifying applicants of application deficiencies have been sent. The webinar is intended to prepare potential applicants for the process and reduce the need for cure letters.

Brown further stated, “To assist applicants with meeting the legal requirements for licensure, the webinar on September 14 will review how to complete the process accurately and minimize hold-ups like cure letters.”

The pre-application webinar will be on September 14, 2023, at 2 p.m. It will include information about the application process, eligibility criteria, navigating the application portal, and information specific to the opening license classes.

Webinar information can be found at nj.gov/cannabis/resources/webinars.

A “social equity business” refers to a license applicant or license holder who meets specific criteria, including having over 50 percent ownership interest held by individuals who have resided in an economically disadvantaged area for at least five of the past ten years and whose household income is 70,800 or less, or by people who were convicted of a marijuana- or hashish-related offense and has since then had a clean criminal record.

To qualify as a social equity business, when submitting their cannabis business license application the applicant must provide documentation confirming their eligibility status.

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