New York State should look to New Jersey’s example as it drafts policies that would legalize marijuana

The New York State Legislature should pay attention to the debate in New Jersey regarding marijuana legalization. Should New York decide to go in that direction, this would ensure that New York does not trail too far behind New Jersey’s legalization.

Last month, the New Jersey State Legislature anticipated a vote on the Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act, which would have regulated medical and recreational marijuana and expunged, or erased the records of people who were arrested for low-level marijuana possession. 

What sets New Jersey’s bill apart from states like Colorado and Washington is that a large portion of the bill is dedicated to social justice policies as much as it is on the economic logistics of legalization. For example, the bill would have allowed those who were previously arrested for possession of up to five pounds of marijuana to have their records cleared.

The vote was scheduled for March 25, however, was suddenly cancelled due to a lack of votes in support of the bill in the New Jersey State Senate, but New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy remains optimistic that legalization will be possible this year.

Murphy additionally called upon the State Legislature to pass a bill regarding legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana use by May—or he plans to take executive action to allow for medical usage.

The immediate prospects of marijuana legalization in New Jersey should encourage New York legislators to bring recreational legalization to a vote on a quicker timescale, as New Jersey would be the third neighboring state to legalize recreational use.

Earlier this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plan for marijuana legalization in New York, which included multiple levels of taxation, the creation of an oversight body and officially permitting the sale of marijuana starting April 1, 2020. Cuomo originally anticipated this plan to be included in the state budget that was passed on April 1.

Ultimately, legalization was left out of the state budget due to ongoing debates regarding the specifics of community reinvestment and other aspects of taxation, but it is possible that a bill will be passed by the end of the next legislative session in June.

Additionally, an aspect of Cuomo’s plan that does not exist in the New Jersey bill is that it would allow individual counties and cities to exempt themselves from complying with recreational legalization. While this might make the prospect of legalization more palatable to a greater number of legislators, it would undermine the uniformity expected with statewide legalization.

Furthermore, various counties in New York—such as Rockland, Putnam, Nassau and Suffolk—have already announced their intention to exempt themselves from legalization. This would create significant challenges if both New Jersey and New York pass legalization measures, as these counties’ geographic proximity to New York City and New Jersey could cause more problems than intended.

It is very interesting that similar legalization bills are being discussed in two states concurrently. Especially since both Murphy and Cuomo were—or are—willing to use executive powers to pursue some degree of legalization.

New York State Legislature should look at the legalization debate in New Jersey as both a point of reference and an example of how to thoughtfully consider recreational marijuana use.