Feb. 23, 2021 -- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed laws on Monday that will create a marketplace for recreational marijuana, decriminalize cannabis possession, and loosen penalties for underage possession of marijuana and alcohol, according to The Associated Press.

The new measures come more than 3 months after 65% of voters approved a ballot question to legalize the drug for people 21 and older. Murphy brushed off attacks that the legislation is intended to bring in tax revenue or will make policing of underage possession difficult.

“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” he said Monday in a statement.

Murphy pointed to the stringent policing of marijuana laws that has created disproportionate treatment of Black residents, who were up to 3 times as likely to encounter marijuana charges as white residents.

“Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible,” he said.

Murphy faced a Monday deadline to sign the decriminalization and marketplace bills, the AP reported, which he had delayed for months due to concerns that young people of color, especially those in Black and Latino communities, would continue to have a disproportionate number of arrests and citations. Lawmakers passed a last-minute measure on Monday to ease penalties on underage possession to secure Murphy’s signature.

Some lawmakers balked at the idea of loosening penalties, the AP reported. Under the bill, underage possession of marijuana and alcohol will start with written warnings, followed by parental notification and a referral to community services. Before the bill, underage drinking was punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and 6 months in jail.

Now the state’s new Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be formed, which will monitor regulations and licenses. It could take about 6 months before the legalized marketplace is running, Murphy said.

Under the marketplace, consumers will pay the state’s 6.625% sales tax, and 70% of the proceeds will go to areas that have been affected by marijuana-related arrests, the AP reported. Towns can also levy up to a 2% tax, and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be able to add an excise tax, depending on the cost per ounce of cannabis.

With New Jersey’s move to legalize marijuana use, 15 states and the District of Columbia have now allowed recreational use by adults.