The presidential race aside, the other contest garnering high interest this year in New Jersey is the question of whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

If voters give Ballot Question No. 1 the OK, New Jersey would join 11 states and Washington, D.C., to fully legalize weed.

Update, 9:45 p.m.: The Associated Press has called the marijuana race — recreational marijuana will soon be legal in New Jersey

Update, 9:38 p.m.: A substantial vote is still out, but it's looking incredibly likely New Jersey has voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Advocates were declaring victory just after 9:30 p.m. The roughly 30 percent of votes tallied statewide were showing a more than 2-1 lead for yes votes. And even the state's most conservative centers — including those appearing to back Republican President Donald Trump in this reliably blue state — were voting yes in results in so far.

Even opponents sent a statement mid-day, anticipating they'd lose (see the 4:20 p.m. update below).

“This is a great day for New Jersey. After years of political inaction, voters have definitively approved marijuana legalization,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement sent around 9:30 p.m.

“The passage of this ballot measure positions New Jersey to take the lead in the Northeast and will push neighboring states, like New York and Pennsylvania, to take action on marijuana legalization,” Hawkins added. “This is a victory for social justice given that Black residents of New Jersey are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white residents despite similar usage rates.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws declared victory as well.

“Garden State voters spoke resoundingly. They are demanding their lawmakers end the failed policy of marijuana criminalization, and instead pursue a more sensible path of regulation and legalization," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said.

New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder called the vote
a remarkable, historic night for New Jersey."

"On the question of whether they support ending the long failed war on cannabis, of making social justice a priority and of ensuring we create thousands of new jobs, the voters have overwhelmingly said yes," he wrote in a statement.

Amol Sinha, ACLU-NJ executive director said voters had given the legislature its "marching orders" — since enabling legislation would still be required before marijuana could become legal. Gov. Phil Murphy hasn't just signaled he'll sign such legislation — he's campaigned for legalization.

"The voters realize that we need to legalize marijuana from a legal and racial social justice perspective because that’s how we ran the campaign. We knew that the message that resonated with people all over New Jersey were those about making sure we stop the arrests, reduce the racial disparity in the justice system and that we stop wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayer resources in enforcing these arcane prohibition laws that have led to skyrocketing numbers of arrests of people of color." Sinha said.

Sinha said any bill will need to generate tax revenue that's put toward helping communities of color, disproportionately hit by drug law enforcement.

"We need to see a bill that will make sure we are creating a diverse industry that reflects the diversity of New Jersey and it’s not just reserved for millionaires backed by mega corporations. And we need to see rapid and robust expungement enabled in New Jersey.”

He said if lawmakers are "supposedly representing the interests of what their constituents, they better get in line with what their constituents want.”

Update, 8:45 p.m.:

Results tabulated so far by the Associated Press show a commanding lead for the pro-marijuana camp, with yes votes outnumbering nos nearly 2-1. The AP is reporting 16 percent of precincts are in.

Bill Caruso, head of the cannabis law division of the Archer law firm, said he expected legislation by Assemblyman Nick Scutari to allow for legal marijuana — enabled by the vote — could be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy by the end of the year.

Towns would still need to OK sales in their municipalities, and the state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission would have to ensure there is enough supply for medical marijuana patients before recreational marijuana could become available.

“I think it’s more likely realistically we’re going to see more adult use sales in New Jersey as early as third quarter 2021, more likely fourth quarter 2021," Caruso told New Jersey 101.5's Eric Scott Tuesday night.

No tax revenue from sales is expected in 2020.

Caruso said New Jersey would first see more ancillary jobs created in the marijuana industry— around like engineering, packaging and transportation.

Law enforcement concerns need to be addressed as well. Money in proposed legislation would be put toward enabling field sobriety tests.

During his run for office, Gov. Phil Murphy had campaigned for legalization but the Democratic-controlled Legislature was unable to reach an agreement on how to proceed.

See here throughout Election Day and Night for updates, as well as unofficial results as they come in. Results will not include provisional ballots cast on Election Day, and may not include all mail-in or machine votes. 

Two other questions are on the ballot: Whether property tax breaks should be extended to peacetime veterans and whether the state Constitution should be amended to extend the deadline for legislative redistricting if Census data is delayed.

Update, 4:20 p.m.:

Anticipating the measure would pass, opponents Smart Approaches to Marijuana released a statement from their president, Dr. Kevin Sabet.

"This result is disappointing, but not surprising, given that the No campaign was outspent about 400 to 1. After spending at least $4 million lobbying lawmakers, Big Pot spent another $2 million to hoodwink voters into allowing its expansion. This investment may pay dividends for the industry, but it will not pay off for those who will suffer as a result of increased substance use disorders, drugged driving, and poorer educational outcomes and economic opportunities.

"But we are not done. I believe most people probably thought they were decriminalizing – not necessarily legalizing – marijuana. You will see some of the same people who voted for this will stand with us to stop pot shops in their communities. They will also stand with us as we pressure the legislature into making regulations that can at least partially protect public health.

"We will continue to work with those who have been with us since the start to monitor and expose New Jersey’s marijuana industry at every turn. The fight for public health and safety is never over.”

Update, 3 p.m.:

Gov. Phil Murphy has been encouraging voters to support the marijuana referendum:

“Well, God and the voters willing on Tuesday and this ballot question passes, there’s a fairly lengthy process before I think you’ll see adult-use sales in New Jersey,” said Bill Caruso, a lawyer and member of the steering committee of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.

Initial results will be unofficial, as they always are, and then finalized by the counties Nov. 20. They will be certified by the state Dec. 8. If approved, the constitutional amendment will take effect Jan. 1, but even that wouldn’t be the start date. It could be another six months.

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