Explainer: This Is What’s in New Jersey’s Landmark Marijuana Bill

March 21, 2019

NJ Spotlight
Carly Sitrin

Some lawmakers say they haven’t been given enough time to study measure that would legalize marijuana in NJ. Here’s a comprehensive analysis of its contents.

Adult-use marijuana legalization is likely to be voted on by the entire state Legislature as soon as early next week. But since the bill was finalized Monday night, many lawmakers are concerned they haven’t been given enough time to thoroughly digest and assess its major points. What’s more, this measure is the first of its kind in the country and if it passes, could become model legislation for other states looking to legalize and set up a functioning cannabis economy. The ten other states that so far have legalized marijuana have done so by a ballot referendum or, in Vermont’s case, by legislation that didn’t allow for regulated sales.

The current proposal was released hurriedly from committee and comes in at 176 pages. With accompanying medical and expungement bills, the entire package comes close to 300 pages. It’s not clear whether there will be enough votes to approve the bill, which requires 21 in the Senate and 41 in the Assembly for passage. While Gov. Phil Murphy has been hitting the phones to drum up votes in support of the legislation, it’s unknown how steadfast the opposition is, whether they have been holding out their support due to principle or just looking to horse-trade.

Among legislators reportedly leaning towards “no” votes, Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) said a lack of transparency is keeping him from supporting the bill.

“All three of these bills are complicated,” Bateman said at the hearing Monday before abstaining from voting. “This is going to really change the dynamics in New Jersey … do you really think we can digest this?”

The legislation — which contains over 20 changes from the previous version — was last up for a public hearing in November 2018 and even then, public testimony was restricted. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to hear public testimony, sending a packed room of New Jerseyans home. On the Assembly committee side, public comments were limited to three minutes.

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Senate and Assembly Committees Vote Out Bill Legalizing Marijuana

March 19, 2019

NJ Spotlight
Carly Sitrin

Measure could come to floor vote next week, but some pols disturbed over irregularities during hearings, raise concerns about ‘good governing’

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado

After hours of closed-door meetings, vocal opposition from the Republican delegation, and severely limited public testimony, state lawmakers voted the newly amended marijuana bill out of both Senate and Assembly committees late on Monday night. The final vote count in the Senate Judiciary committee was six yes, four no, one abstention, and in the Assembly Appropriations committee the bill was voted out six yes, one no and two abstentions.

“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the bill’s sponsor. “This bill will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market so that it can be controlled, regulated, and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades.”

The bill, called the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Modernization Act,” would legalize adult possession or use of one ounce or less (28.38 grams) of marijuana and set up a system for taxing and regulating the new cannabis economy along with expunging the records of those who have been convicted of minor marijuana offenses. Now that it has left committee, the bill will head to the full legislative floor for a vote as early as next week. If it passes, New Jersey will be the first state in the country to legalize, tax, and regulate a cannabis market through legislation.

Rocky rollout

With such a weighty task before them, some lawmakers expressed their distaste for the process by which the bill was heard in committee: hearings delayed for six hours, bills being printed even as the vote was being counted, members of the public sent home and told there would be no testimony heard.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) a strong opponent of legalization, took issue with the vote itself noting that three voting members, Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), and Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) left votes despite not being physically present at the 7 p.m. hearing.

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Weed delivery and pot lounges could be a reality as N.J. cannabis legalization bill heads for a vote

March 18, 2019

by Jan Hefler and Sam Wood

Before the year ends, a new cultural landscape could take hold in New Jersey if marijuana is legalized for anyone 21 and over.

New dispensaries would spring up around the state — many more than the six that currently exist and that cater only to medical patients.

Cannabis would also be delivered to customers’ doorsteps, similar to an Amazon package, according to the latest legalization bill.

Indoor and outdoor “consumption lounges” would be created, though none would be allowed on college campuses.

Casinos in Atlantic City and hotels could designate 20 percent of their space for guests to use marijuana.

And towns that welcome marijuana businesses could reap financial rewards that come with the potentially multimillion-dollar industry by imposing a tax of up to 3 percent.

It all hinges on whether lawmakers approve a roughly 200-page bill that some say may reach the floor for a historic vote, perhaps as soon as March 25.

“Clearly we have rounded a corner. I feel good about it,” Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the chief architect of the state’s “Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act,” said in an interview Thursday.

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Legislation to legalize recreational use of cannabis is finalized; here are details

March 18, 2019

By Anjalee Khemlani

A bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana was finalized by the governor and legislative leaders Wednesday night.

The 168-page bill, obtained by ROI-NJ, includes provisions for setting up the cannabis industry and social justice provisions — including expungement — to help those who have been prosecuted over the issue previously.

(Read a copy of the bill below.)

Bills — one will originate in both the state Senate and the Assembly — are expected to be taken up in the Legislature as soon as this week. They are expected to be voted on by the end of the month.

If the measure is signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, it is projected to net the state $60 million for Fiscal Year 2020, according to the governor’s budget proposal.

The legislation, worked on by Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis to be used in private homes — government-subsidized housing is still barred — and defined consumption establishments, which will include outdoor seating areas.

The bill sets up a taxable industry of growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors and retailers. A tax of $42 will be imposed on growers for each ounce of marijuana grown in the state.

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Legal weed vote needs to happen this month, top N.J. Democrat says. ‘The time to get it done is now.’

March 8, 2019

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

It’s crunch time for legal pot in New Jersey. So says the Garden State’s top-ranking state lawmaker.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Thursday he’s hoping to finally hold a vote this month on a long-debated — and long-delayed — bill to legalize recreational marijuana here.

Waiting any longer, Sweeney said, will likely make it harder for the measure to pass.

“It’s really important that we get this thing done this month,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told NJ Advance Media in an interview at the Statehouse in Trenton.

“The time to get it done is now,” he said.

One issue: Top lawmakers have yet to formally introduce the bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax the possession of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and older in New Jersey.

Sources said last month that the three Democrats who lead the state — Sweeney, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Gov. Phil Murphy— ended months of disagreement by reaching a deal on what the bill would look like.

But Sweeney said there is still one issue holding the legislation up. He wouldn’t reveal what.

Once the bill is introduced, both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — would need to pass it before Murphy could sign it into law.

Still, it’s unclear if there are enough votes in either chamber to pass the measure. Sweeney said “there’s a path” to the 21 votes needed in the Senate, but he needs Murphy’s help to drum up support from lawmakers on the fence.

That means Sweeney and Coughlin, D-Middlesex, would be up against the clock to get a vote done by the end of March. As of now, the Senate has a voting session on March 14, and both houses have scheduled sessions for March 25.

Coughlin’s office was less keen Thursday to call for a quick vote. His spokesman, Kevin McArdle, said the speaker is discussing the bill with his fellow Assembly Democrats to “address any concerns” and ensure the final measure is “responsible.”

“Getting the final bill right is far more important than getting it done quickly,” McArdle said.

Sweeney has missed a few self-imposed deadlines for a legal weed vote over the last year. But this time, he said, is more dire.

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Still lacking deal, Murphy budget eyes $60M in legal marijuana tax money

March 5, 2019

By: Gabrielle Saulsbery
March 5, 2019 2:01 pm

The governor’s proposed budget calls for $60 million of tax revenue on legal marijuana for half the year, assuming lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy can agree on a bill.

If legalized adult use cannabis and the surrounding bureaucracy is implemented on Jan. 1, 2020, the budget projects $39 million in net revenue over the course of six months.

Twenty-one million dollars would go towards the first-time costs of getting the administration set up, according to Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio, but over time that amount would flatten out at roughly $12 million a year.

Murphy campaigned on legalizing marijuana within his first 100 days of office, but his efforts fell flat as they stalled in the state Legislature. A deal struck in February calls for cannabis to be taxed at $42 an ounce, and for a five-person Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the fledgling market. Murphy would be able to pick three seats requiring Senate approval.

The $60 million gross revenue estimate is based on the per-ounce-tax, according to a senior administration official.

“We haven’t seen final legislation yet so we had to make some assumptions,” the official said. “But the estimate doesn’t assume any licensing fees at this point. It’s based on the per ounce tax, and the assumption that the per ounce tax might phase up in steps.”

The departments expected to be responsible for the expenditures are the Department of Health, Department of the Treasury, Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, the continued expansion of medical marijuana is scored for $20 million.

(Marijuana) rules of the road

March 5, 2019

There’s no reliable way to measure how impaired a driver is after smoking weed, experts say. And because of legal precedent, it’s harder to talk about it in a courtroom.

Payton Guion and Claude Brodesser-Akner For The Star-Ledger Justin Bealor weaved through the streets of Sea Isle City shortly after midnight one July morning in 2002, an open 12-pack of beer in the back seat and the odor of burnt marijuana in the car. Police saw him cross the yellow lines in the road several times before he turned into oncoming traffic.

Two state troopers pulled him over and arrested him after finding a used marijuana pipe in his pocket. They found marijuana residue in the pipe and a urine test later confirmed that Bealor had marijuana in his system.

But none of that meant Bealor was impaired by marijuana, his attorneys later argued, and upon appeal, New Jersey’s Supreme Court concurred in a 2006 decision. The court noted the state trooper who arrested Bealor wasn’t an expert in assessing the effects of marijuana use, and the state’s forensic expert who was hadn’t bothered to explain what effect it might have had.

The Bealor decision and other legal precedent established in other states raise huge concerns for police departments across New Jersey that they may not be able to effectively deal with people suspected of driving while high, concerns that could soon become even more pressing as state lawmakers appear to be getting closer to legalizing marijuana.

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Voters would decide if N.J. legalizes weed under brand new proposal

March 1, 2019

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

WASHINGTON — A pair of state lawmakers — one Republican and one Democrat — are working on a proposal that would allow New Jersey voters, rather than legislators, to decide whether to legalize marijuana in the Garden State.

Currently, New Jersey’s leaders are hoping to legalize weed here by having the New Jersey Legislature vote on a bill that would tax and regulate recreational pot use for people 21 and older.

But state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, and state Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex — both of whom are against legal weed — have a different plan.

Schepisi and Rice told NJ Advance Media they are sponsoring a measure that would allow for possession of small amounts of marijuana — up to one ounce — but only if the state’s voters approve it in a ballot referendum.

Schepisi said this would give voters not only a say but time to become educated on the pros and cons of marijuana legalization before making up their mind.

“Right now, they’re just hearing soundbites,” Schepisi told NJ Advance Media on Thursday during the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Walk to Washington” train trip ridden by New Jersey lawmakers, local officials, business leaders, and lobbyists.

“Let’s allow the public to become educated before they make a determination of whether or not this is what they really want,” she added.

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Here’s What’s Happening with Cannabis Legalization in New York and New Jersey

February 28, 2019

by Greg Miller
Executive Director, NICI

Legalizing recreational cannabis use in New York and New Jersey would be a huge win for cannabis investors. Here’s where the Big Apple and the Garden State stand on the issue…

Cannabis legalization was a key issue for voters in the 2018 U.S. elections: Michigan legalized recreational use and Utah and Missouri legalized medical cannabis. That’s a good start, but the news gets even better – and bigger – in 2019.

New York and New Jersey, two of the most populous U.S. states, could be the next to legalize recreational cannabis.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY-D) expects his state could raise about $300 million in annual revenue from legalization. Governor Phil Murphy (NJ-D) also believes New Jersey could generate a similar amount of revenue, according to Bloomberg.

And it’s clear that residents of each state want legalization.

According to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, 63% of New York voters favor legalizing cannabis. For New Jersey, a 2018 poll by Rutgers University‘s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling found that 60% of New Jersey adults wanted legalization.

But if the majority of folks want this to happen, what’s the hold up?

Today, I wanted to give you an update on the legalization efforts in these two states.

The Big Apple and the Garden State could be huge cannabis markets, and companies expanding into New York and New Jersey could rake in massive profits…

New Jersey Pushes for Cannabis Legalization

New Jersey could be a big cannabis market, and state officials need to make sure they get legalization right.

They don’t want to end up like California, which expected $643 million in tax revenue from legal marijuana sales in 2018 but only hauled in $350 million. I’m going to have more details on that tomorrow in my Cannabis Profits Daily report.

To delve into the biggest issues a little further, the team at the National Institute for Cannabis Investors spoke with Juan Carlos Negrin, the President of the New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association about where legalization stands in New Jersey. Here’s what he told us:

“There has been recent progress, but until the Governor’s (Phil Murphy) signature is on the bill, there is still work to be done on the legislation. The two biggest obstacles holding it up are oversight and pricing.

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Fed chair seeks ‘clarity’ on whether cannabis businesses can open bank accounts as N.J. considers legalization

February 27, 2019

By Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve acknowledged the dilemma faced by legal cannabis enterprises that can’t get checking accounts or accept credit cards because most banks can’t do business with them as long as the drug is illegal on the federal level.

“It puts financial institutions in a very difficult place,” Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday. “It would be nice to have clarity on that.”

Because banks are federally regulated, any efforts to do business with cannabis companies would run afoul of the federal ban on marijuana. Banks that work with such companies could be charged with money laundering.

Powell was responding to a question from U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., whose state is moving toward legalizing cannabis for personal use. A bill could be finished as early as next week.

“My home state of New Jersey is moving towards legalization of recreational marijuana, and I have concerns that these new businesses as well as the existing medical marijuana businesses in the state will continue to find themselves shut out of the banking system,” Menendez said. “And when these businesses are forced to operate exclusively in cash, they create serious public safety concerns.”

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