New Jersey may have decided more than just the governor’s race in the election held this month. They have put the Garden State on the path to becoming the eighth U.S. state to allow recreational marijuana sales.

As pointed out last month, a vote for Democrat Phil Murphy meant a vote for creating a state-regulated adult-use marijuana industry. During the campaign, Murphy promised to sign a bill creating a legalized marijuana market in New Jersey during his first 100 days in office. That bill already is moving through the state Legislature.

And this hasn’t been a kind of, maybe sort of thing. Murphy has been clear about his intentions on marijuana.

“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy said after winning the Democratic primary earlier this year. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”

Murphy won 56 percent of the vote, with 42 percent going to Republican Kim Guadagno.

What happens next

Murphy will be inaugurated governor in January 2018. The bill legalizing recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey is still working through revisions in the state Legislature.

The “within 100 days” promise actually originates with Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney, who controls which bills come before the full Senate, has vowed to have the bill before Murphy within the first 100 days of his administration.

For his part, Murphy has said he will sign it. His argument is that criminalization of marijuana has destroyed many lives, particularly in minority communities. In the final debate before the election, he said New Jersey has the dubious honor of having “the widest white, non-white gap of persons incarcerated in America.”

He blamed much of that on low-end drug crimes involving marijuana. On his website, Murphy also said that legalizing marijuana would free police to focus on more violent crimes.

In all of this, Murphy is the polar opposite of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Christie often railed against legalized marijuana. During the run-up to his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, he vowed to “crack down and not permit” legalized marijuana if elected president.

Virginia decriminalization

The victory of Democrat Ralph Northam in the Virginia’s governor’s race also could lead to changes in that state’s marijuana laws. While stopping short of legalization, Northam has argued that possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized. He has addressed the issue from the standpoint of racial discrimination and the financial impact on the state.

In a letter to the Virginia State Crime Commission sent earlier this year, Northam wrote that marijuana laws and enforcement have been “disproportionately harmful to communities of color.” He also noted the state spends $67 million on marijuana law enforcement, which he noted is enough to send 13,000 more kids to pre-K school.



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