The full New Jersey legislature will take up legalization of adult use of cannabis in the Garden State in the coming weeks after measures passed in two committees in a widely covered joint hearing of the House and Senate on Nov. 26.
While more work needs to be done, advocates took a breather from pondering the challenges ahead and issued upbeat statements. “This was a historic vote,” Kate Bell, general counsel of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) tells Freedom Leaf. “It’s the first time it’s gotten this far in New Jersey.”
In a hearing attending by hundreds of spectators, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved S-2703 (sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari) by a 7-2 vote with four abstentions. The Assembly Appropriations Committee cleared A-4497 (sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano) cleared by a 6-1 vote with two abstentions.
New Jersey appears poised to become the first state legislature to allow retail sales of cannabis to adults.
The measures next go to the full chambers for debate and a vote. Lawmakers meet in their first full session on December 17, but it’s unclear whether the bills will come up for a vote then. Unlike other states, the New Jersey legislature meets year-round, which means the bill won’t languish for months before it gets taken up by lawmakers.
One closely watched component is expungements for people convicted of marijuana offenses. The Assembly bill lays out an accelerated process for those with records to clear their names.
The committee approvals caught the attention of cannabis activists around the country partly because New Jersey ranks as the 11th largest state in the country by population with nine million residents.
With the House, Senate and statehouse all in Democratic control, the legislation has a good chance of becoming law. Since Gov. Phil Murphy won election on a legalization platform last year, the winds have favored legalization in New Jersey.
But, so far, the process has been relatively slow. Advocates who’d hoped for a vote as early as this past spring are now projecting a decision by the end of the year at the earliest. Still, New Jersey appears poised to become the first state legislature to allow retail sales of cannabis to adults.
As proposed, the legislation would permit adults to possess up to one ounce of flower, up to a pound in solid form and 72 ounces in liquid form of marijuana-infused products (edibles) and seven grams of marijuana extracts. It creates five categories of regulated marijuana businesses: growers, product manufacturers, wholesalers, testing facilities and retailers. Some retail sites could include consumption on premises in designated areas. Local municipalities would retain control over the number and types of cannabis enterprises in their jurisdictions and would have the right to enforce local licensing requirements. Some towns and cities have been holding hearings to get public input.
The legislation proposes treating anyone under 21 caught with cannabis in a similar manner as alcohol and erases the stricter criminal penalties currently on the books. It also establishes a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee adult use and existing medical program.
With the House, Senate and statehouse all in Democratic control, the legislation has a good chance of becoming law.
The measures recommend a 12% tax rate on the retail price, including the sales tax and a potential local tax of up to 2%, though Gov. Murphy prefers a rate closer to 25%. Asked by reporters whether he would sign the bill in its current form, Murphy stated at a press conference in Trenton, “We haven’t commented on specifics, but I’m very happy that this is moving.”
Another negative is the ban on home growing in both bills. Washington is the only legal state (there are 10) that doesn’t allow domestic cultivation.
One strong motivator for legalization in New Jersey is sorely needed revenues. The Assembly and Senate budgets include a projected $69 million from marijuana taxes, which is considered a conservative estimate. In most other legal states, tax revenues from cannabis have exceeded expectations.
“This will right several wrongs that have been perpetuated throughout the failed War on Drugs,” New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder noted in a statement. “It will take cannabis out of the hands of drug dealers and the black market and place it in a well-regulated space that will allow small business owners to create jobs and pump money into our economy.”
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