3 cannabis bills released; Legislature to take up Monday

The first-ever vote on adult-use cannabis legalization will be held at a joint hearing Monday in the Senate Budget and Appropriations and Assembly Appropriations committees.

Senate Bill 2703, the 147-page New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act, would legalize the personal use and possession of cannabis for those 21 and over and create the state’s first taxed and regulated cannabis industry.

Sens. Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, sponsored the bill.

Licensees under the new bill could be cultivators, processors, wholesalers, or retailers. The bill also allows for micro-licenses, providing an opportunity for small businesses to enter the new market.

Taxation on cannabis would be 12 percent with the bill, with a 2 percent additional tax to go to municipalities that are home to dispensaries. The taxation rate has been one of the main sticking points in getting legislation done. Sweeney wants to cap the tax at 12 percent, saying anything higher than that will push buyers back into the black market. Gov. Phil Murphy is said to want the tax rate to be higher.

The bill also creates a framework for expungement for those with prior arrests and convictions for possession or distribution of an ounce or less of cannabis. An additional expungement bill was released Wednesday and also will be voted on Monday.

Senate Bill 2426, the 67-page New Jersey Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, revises various parts of the 2009 Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, and is sponsored by Vitale, Scutari, and Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District. It allows advance-practice nurses and physician assistants to authorize patients for medical cannabis, and redirects the oversight of medical cannabis to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission created in S-2703.

“The posting of the bills is incredibly good news for New Jersey’s burgeoning cannabis industry. While details remain to be negotiated between the governor and Legislature, it is clear that New Jersey will soon join the ranks of states that have legalized cannabis,” said Lee Vartan, co-chair of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC’s cannabis law group.

Vartan is a former executive assistant attorney general who played a significant role in CUMMA, establishing and overseeing the regulatory regime that governs the state’s current medical marijuana dispensaries.

Sens. Vitale and Scutari did not return requests for comment by press time, nor did Murphy’s office.