New Jersey is on track to legalize marijuana within the next hundred days. The countdown began last night when New Jerseyans elected pro-legalization candidate Phil Murphy (D) to replace Governor Chris Christie, who could not run for a third term in office.

Murphy repeatedly championed legalization on the campaign trail, including his address following his victory in the New Jersey primary last June, where he argued that repealing prohibition was primarily an issue of social justice.

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

His position was far more progressive than Republican rival Kim Guadagno, who's served as Christie's lieutenant governor since 2010. Guadagno opposed legalization in fear that repealing prohibition could draw the ire of Attorney General Jeff "good people don't smoke marijuana" Sessions. So Guadagno asked New Jerseyans to settle for decriminalization — a policy that Murphy criticized as being woefully insufficient since it wouldn't eliminate a black market that has no qualms about selling drugs to minors. 

“[T]he drug industry stays underground, run by the same people and it’s unregulated, so therefore minors in particular are exposed to that," he said during an election debate. "But set aside the fact you don’t earn the tax revenue, which is also a reality, the fact is it remains the wild west.”

Lawmakers in the state legislature agree. In fact, State Senator Nicholas Scutari has been working with colleagues on a legalization bill for months despite former Governor Christie's opposition. Scutari went ahead in order to lay the groundwork so that Christie's successor could hit the ground running on the issue. If passed, the bill would make New Jersey the first state to legalize marijuana through the state legislature rather than ballot initiatives that repealed prohibition in states like Colorado and California.

Activists hope that Murphy's win will have ripple effects across the country.

“Candidates across the country should take notice, as 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% of New Jersey voters and 64% of Americans nationwide,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement. “NORML looks forward to working with Governor-Elect Murphy and other stakeholders in the state to end the disastrous policy of marijuana prohibition and to implement the moral, economic, and scientifically sound policy of legalization and regulation in the Garden State.”

A Breath of Fresh Air

Murphy's cannabis stance is a breath of fresh air after the 'Reefer Madness' mindset of the previous administration. While governor, Christie was belligerently opposed to marijuana, calling it "poison" and saying tax revenue collected from regulated sales was "blood money." 

His outspoken opposition likely contributed to his historically low approval rating (17 percent) since a recent Predictwise/Pollfish Survey revealed that 65 percent of New Jersey voters support legalization. Many were tired of police making arrests for marijuana possession every 22 minutes in New Jersey, where black residents are three times more likely to get busted for simple possession than whites despite comparable usage rates, according to New Jersey's chapter of the ACLU.

Those stats will become a thing of the past once the state moves forward with legalization. 

But we haven't heard the last from Christie. Although no longer governor, Christie remains the chair of President Trump's opioid commission, so he still has a platform for his outdated anti-marijuana rants. But after the results of yesterday's election, it's clear that at least 1.2 million New Jerseyans are no longer listening.

h/t Marijuana Moment