The Garden State may be among the next to legalize recreational marijuana after New Jersey voters elected Democrat Phil Murphy to the governor’s office Tuesday.
Mr. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and major Democratic Party donor, defeated GOP opponent Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, putting him on course to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie when his term expires Jan. 16.
While Mr. Christie has been adamantly anti-pot, the governor-elect campaigned on legalizing marijuana and is expected to follow suit after taking office.
“We’ll legalize marijuana,” Mr. Murphy, 60, told The Associated Press last month. “That will take a couple of years for the economic reality to set in. It’s not the reason why we’re doing it but it does have an economic impact.”
Twenty-nine states and the nation’s capital have legalized medical marijuana, New Jersey included, but residents in only a handful have voted in favor of letting adults use the plant for recreational purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and D.C.
“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Mr. Murphy said after winning the Democratic Party primary in June. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”
Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari is working on a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana within New Jersey, and he said that Mr. Murphy’s victory Tuesday means its “full steam ahead.”
“The election of Phil Murphy gets us a giant step closer,” Mr. Scutari told NJ.com Tuesday. “Without him, I don’t know where we would be. He has a 100 percent commitment to it.”
Possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana within New Jersey is currently punishably by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey previously determined that police in the Garden State are three times more likely to arrest black residents for marijuana possession than whites, notwithstanding similar usage rates among demographics.
“Candidates across the country should take notice,” said Erik Altieri, NORML executive director. “Phil Murphy won the governor’s seat soundly because of, not in spite of, his open and vocal support for legalizing marijuana — a position supported by 65 percent of New Jersey voters and 64 percent of Americans nationwide.”
Marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 substance lacking medical benefits by the U.S. Department of Justice and banned under federal law. The Obama administration declined to intervene in states that have legalized the plant for medicinal or recreational purposes, and President Trump’s Justice Department has failed so far to take action against any of those states.