With the recent vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, many wonder how the decision will affect residents and people recovering from marijuana addiction. The direct impact remains to be seen, as it will still be quite a while before marijuana can actually be purchased and used legally. Lawmakers are currently working on overcoming hurdles involving penalties for underage use and potential effects on certain demographics. 

Still, many look at the bill as a step in the right direction — one that could actually help people struggling with drug use, inject money into the state’s economy and even reduce drug-related crime.

Journey to Legalization

On election day, nearly 67% of New Jersey voters said “yes” to allow the legalization of marijuana within the state for people aged 21 or older. The bill, called the N.J. Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, passed in both the state senate and assembly and would have gone into effect on January 1, 2021.

However, New Jerseyans aren’t able to purchase marijuana yet — or even possess it legally. Governor Phil Murphy has not signed the bill yet, as he wishes to impose greater fines on those aged 18 to 20. Some argue this is a problem because it would likely affect minorities disproportionately. Others say the fines are too harsh, starting at $250 for possession of fewer than 6 ounces and $500 for anything more. As of this writing, a new bill placing possession fines at $50–$100 for people aged 18 to 20 has passed its first committee. 

Until a compromise is reached, the bill remains in a strange state of limbo, leaving many New Jersey residents confused about whether it’s legal to have marijuana. Additionally, the law designates legal cannabis as cannabis that is regulated, but it may take as long as 18 months before the proper infrastructure is in place to buy or sell regulated cannabis. For now, it seems you can still be arrested for marijuana possession.

Details of the Bill

Aside from whatever compromises are made to get it passed, the bill will impose a variety of guidelines — as well as limits —  in terms of marijuana possession, sales and taxes. Here are a few noteworthy takeaways:

  • Cultivation licenses are capped at 37 for the first two years; however, there is no cap imposed on smaller cultivation facilities.
  • Marijuana sales will be taxed at the statewide 6.625% rate, and local areas are able to add an optional 2% extra tax if desired.
  • Excise fees may rise by up to $50 per ounce if the retail price of cannabis falls below $200 per ounce.
  • Seventy percent of marijuana tax revenue will go to social justice reformation for communities affected by the war on drugs.

The predicted effects are that there will be reductions in drug charges and less criminality, as people will not need to turn to drug dealers to purchase marijuana. Areas affected by the war on drugs, which are primarily minority communities, may see relief in the form of expanded mental health services, economic development, education programs and more.

Possible Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Those With Marijuana Dependency 

Though marijuana legalization in New Jersey may help both the economy and the state’s general population, people struggling with marijuana abuse may experience negative side effects. Additionally, marijuana addiction rates may increase due to the drug becoming more easily available, not to mention legal. With the lack of legal consequences for using the drug, some people in recovery may rethink their decision to get sober. Others may feel pressured by recreational users or alienated from friends and family who begin experimenting with the drug. 

Resources for Those in Recovery

If you are in recovery from marijuana use and worried about what legalization may mean for your sobriety, resources are available for you. These tools can help you learn new sobriety strategies, find treatment and become part of helpful, supportive recovery communities. A few New Jersey resources include:

If you or someone you know is struggling with marijuana use or a co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. Contact us today to learn about treatment plans and programs that can work well for your needs.

By – Don Rogers, CADC, CPRS
Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more

Marijuana Policy Project. “N.J. Senate and Assembly advance legaliz[…]ion regulatory bill.” January 4, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2021.

CBS New York. “Marijuana In New Jersey: Holdup On Legal[…]ossession Penalties.” January 11, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Barchenger, Stacey. “NJ marijuana legalization, the latest: Another youth penalties bill, and a hope for home grow.” Trenton Bureau, App.com, January 29, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Roberts, Chris. “New Jersey Legalized Cannabis—But Mari[…]g With Legalization?” Forbes, January 4, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Ehrlich, Brenna. “Legal Weed Is Coming to New Jersey — B[…] How Will That Work?” Rolling Stone, December 16, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.