NEW JERSEY — Around midday Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills to legalize recreational marijuana-use and establish a regulated cannabis market within the next six months.

The legislation will allow for adults to legally possess as much as six ounces of marijuana and mean relief for anyone previously subject to arrest for petty marijuana possession.

“As of this moment, New Jersey's broken and indefensible marijuana laws - which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, and which disproportionately hurt communities of color, and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise - are no more,” Murphy said Monday afternoon during his COVID-19 update in Trenton.

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"In their place are laws that will usher in a new industry, based on equity, which will reinvest dollars into communities — laws which promote both public health by promoting safe cannabis products and public safety by allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes,” he continued.

Murphy said now, “law enforcement [can] focus their resources on serious crimes.”

As a ballot question, New Jerseyans supported the decriminalization of marijuana by a margin of 2 to 1 last November with more than 2.7 million votes in favor.

New Jersey joins Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts as the only four states to legalize weed on the East Coast. The Garden State is the thirteenth countrywide and part of efforts to bolster the state’s economy - especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

A spokesman from his office said the bills provide a process to dismiss people’s pending marijuana charges. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also announced last fall that a moratorium would be in place for filing charges starting Election Day.

Initially vowing to legalize weed in his first 100 days in office, Murphy admitted toward the end of Monday’s press conference that, “The marijuana road was complicated.”

That road included failed legislative attempts, months of negotiations on tax revenue, licensing rules and discussions on penalties for those under 21 caught in possession of marijuana.

Murphy signed the bills, which would have become law without his participation, following the Senate and Assembly holding last-minute voting sessions Monday morning.

Speaking candidly on the significance of the legalization, the governor said, “People still need to be responsible. The words ‘adult-use’ have been associated with this since Day 1…my message is it’s adult-use and should be treated like any substance like this - alcohol or other - with responsibility.”

“At long last, New Jersey is turning the page on our previous treatment of marijuana use,” said Dianna Houenou, incoming Chair of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). “I am excited to get to work building on the successes of the medical program and standing up the adult-use cannabis industry. It’s an honor to be part of this historic movement in New Jersey.” 

When asked by a reporter whether there would be guidance for residents interested in growing cannabis from home, Murphy responded, “We’re going to go with the bills I just signed.”

Next steps will be a matter of establishing marketplace in a state with over 9 million residents but only 13 medical marijuana dispensaries.

“We can get down to the business of establishing a responsible, sustainable, profitable and diverse adult-use and expanded medical cannabis market in New Jersey,” Edmund DeVeaux, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said in a statement. “Now the real work can begin.”