Despite months of infighting and stalled negotiations, New Jersey’s top lawmaker said Thursday the state Legislature could vote to legalize marijuana in the Garden State as early as next month.
“I think it’s gonna be soon,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney told NJ Advance Media when asked if it’s possible the state will legalize recreational pot use by the end of the year. “We’ll have the legislation done. Then you have to do the regulations and everything else.”
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told reporters earlier in the day that he and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, “spent a lot of time” over the last week speaking with sponsors of the legislation.
Gov. Phil Murphy said marijuana would be legal in New Jersey within his first 100 days in office. Now, it’s Day 202 and there’s no bill legalizing it to be found. As lawmakers debate the features of that inevitable legislation — polls say a majority of voters support the move to legalize — New Jersey residents want solid details of what that would look like.
At two panel events last week, New Jerseyans from different parts of the state asked experts and advocates on both sides of the debate how cannabis markets will impact their neighborhoods. The biggest issues that surfaced among many different groups included fears about outside commercial entities taking over and the impact on communities of color.
One panel presented by Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (NJ-RAMP), an anti-legalization advocacy group, was held at Stockton University and featured former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Another community panel in Camden was hosted by pro-legalization group New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR).
“The part that I’m struggling with is, we’re talking about legalizing recreational marijuana and the tons of revenue it may make at some time, but I still don’t hear anything concrete,” New Jersey Green Party co-chair Gary Frazier said at the Camden gathering.
Shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy was elected, lawmakers said they wanted to get weed legalized in his first 100 days.
That deadline, at the end of April, came and went with little action.
Some lawmakers and advocates then set their sights on getting recreational marijuana passed by the end of June, when legislators traditionally take a summer break. It’s now looking like that deadline also will come and go.
As June 30 rapidly approaches, with little movement, it’s becoming increasingly likely that legal weed will have to wait until later this year. Here’s where things stand now.
The big, new legalization bill is dead
So far this year, two primary marijuana ideas have dominated discourse in New Jersey. The first is an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, which Murphy called for earlier this year in an executive order. The other is legalizing the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for adults at least 21 years old, along with a regulated commercial market.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Union County Democrat who has been leading the push for legal weed, introduced a plan that tried to do both, upsetting lawmakers and advocates alike. It now appears that Scutari’s plan is a non-starter.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, and three others familiar with efforts to push marijuana legalization through the Legislature said Scutari’s merged bill was not moving forward, as reported exclusively by NJ Cannabis Insider.
A long-awaited report on marijuana will recommend that New York legalizes the drug, the state’s top health official said Monday.
While the report has not yet been finalized, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization.
“We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker told reporters at an appearance in Brooklyn. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”
Zucker’s boss, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has long expressed concerns about legalization, last year calling marijuana a “gateway drug.” He has since softened his stance and ordered the legalization study earlier this year amid pressure from legalization supporters, including his Democratic primary opponent, “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon.
Do not count on legal weed in the Big Apple just yet, however. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the year this week, suggesting it will be 2019 at the earliest before legalization is considered in Albany.
The growing list of states that have moved to legalize recreational marijuana use includes California, Colorado and two of New York’s neighbors, Vermont and Massachusetts. Meantime, New Jersey lawmakers are weighing a bill that would bring recreational marijuana to the state while expanding the medical marijuana program.
Somebody kindly check to see whether there is a vacancy at the Newark Home for the Befuddled.
Because Star-Ledger Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran cannot fathom why skeptical, gimlet-guzzling lawmakers and their confused chorus still protest the unassailable logic of marijuana legalization for adults in the state of New Jersey, and here is his argument in this video produced by N.J. Advance Media.
Scale handy? Tom suggests you objectively weigh which drug – alcohol or marijuana – carries the graver threat of roadway tragedy, health damage, and death.
While we’re at it, lawmakers can come to grips with these realities: Marijuana isn’t exactly scarce, and during its illegal lifetime, it has only served to benefit the gang element, reduce the existing law to a sham, and foster a racist legacy of mass incarceration.
The state senator leading the charge on legal weed in New Jersey introduced a new bill Thursday that would bring recreational marijuana to the state while expanding the medical marijuana program.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari on Thursday unveiled a combined bill that aims to address the two biggest marijuana-related issues in New Jersey: an expansion of medical marijuana and full legalization of weed for adults. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is also a prime sponsor, Scutari said.
This is the first bill introduced that combines the two efforts. Scutari’s bill calls for 218 total marijuana dispensaries, 120 of them recreational and 98 of them medical.
According to Scutari and a copy of the legislation obtained by NJ Advance Media:
* Municipalities may ban a dispensary from opening within its border, but the local governing body must pass an ordinance doing so within 180 days of the law’s enactment.
* The 7 percent sales tax on medicinal cannabis will be phased-out within three years.
* A dispensary may create a separate “retail marijuana consumption area” on the premises.
* A positive drug test cannot be used as the basis to deny a person medical care, housing or a job “unless failing to do so would put the school, employer, or landlord in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding.”
Scutari, D-Union, also introduced another bill that only deals with making recreational marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
James Nash, State House Bureau
NEW YORK— New Jersey lawmakers are on track to approve a law that ultimately could bring nearly 100 marijuana retailers to the state and spawn an $850 million industry, advocates said at a conference.
Months of stop-and-start negotiations and public forums are expected within days to yield a new bill to make marijuana legal for any 21-year-old New Jerseyan and further expand medical access to the drug, said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, which represents businesses looking to grow and sell marijuana in the state.
Speaking to more than 100 people at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition, Rudder said the outlines of marijuana regulation in New Jersey are coming into sharper focus a month before lawmakers must approve a new state budget. Gov. Phil Murphy, who has championed legal weed, is counting on $80 million in tax revenue from the drug in his proposed budget for the year beginning July 1.
Lawmakers are looking to revamp how tax revenue from legalized cannabis is incorporated into the state budget, following talks between the Democratic administration and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, an ardent supporter of marijuana legalization.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is currently eyeing a phased-in tax rate for recreational cannabis, according to state Treasury spokesperson Jennifer Sciortino.
The treasury’s newly unveiled revenue projections for 2019, released Monday, showed marijuana revenue lowered by $11 million, to $69 million, rather than the $80 million unveiled in Murphy’s March 2018 budget proposal. The tax rate would be phased in over several years, Sciortino said.
For 2019, the state would realize $49 million by taxing recreational cannabis, Sciortino said, while the projections from expanding the medical marijuana program would hold steady at $20 million.
Scutari’s proposal, Senate Bill 830, is the only one which seeks to legalize, regulate and tax recreational cannabis. It’s not certain if that’s the measure Murphy would support the most; a spokesperson for the governor’s office cited a policy to not comment on pending legislation before it reaches his desk.
S830 calls for the cannabis tax rate to be phased in over five years: 7 percent in the first year, 10 percent in the second, 15 percent in the third, 20 percent in the fourth and 25 percent in the fifth year and beyond.
But S830 is one of three bills making their way through the Legislature. Another, Senate Bill 1926, would decriminalize marijuana, but stops short of legalizing recreational use. It’s sponsored by Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th District, a staunch opponent of recreational cannabis.
Rice, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said legalizing recreational cannabis will only worsen the social issues related to marijuana, such as the disproportionate incarceration rate for blacks and Latinos.
Legalization, Rice added, would also lead to more urban violence and fail to make a dent in the black market.
The third bill, Senate Bill 10, introduced May 21 and also sponsored by Scutari, would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by broadening who as a patient or caregiver would have access to medical cannabis, loosen requirements for alternative treatment centers and increase the quantity of medicinal cannabis available to patients.
This story is part of the HIGH HOPES series from the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey, which sent journalists to Colorado & California to see how legal weed could impact the Garden State.
In a New Jersey where recreational marijuana is legal, cannabis could quickly overtake cranberries as the state’s No. 1 cash crop, the centerpiece of a new billion-dollar industry employing thousands.
From Jersey City to Atlantic City, residents and tourists — from New York, Pennsylvania and anywhere within a few hours’ drive — could flock to one of the new dispensaries, closer in appearance to a sleek Apple Store than a corner liquor store, to get their hands on the only legal weed in the mid-Atlantic.
But along the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, police officers would have to confront the challenge of catching stoned drivers without a reliable breath test. And at dinner tables across New Jersey, parents would grapple with the dramatic cultural change as their children grow up in a state where marijuana dispensaries are as ubiquitous as diners and rolled joints nearly as common as pork roll.
Journalists from the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey visited California and Colorado, two of the states that pioneered marijuana sales for both medical and non-medical purposes, to get a first-hand look, smell and taste at the future of legal weed in the Garden State. Watch one reporter’s experience in marijuana dispensaries in the video below.
“Now that I’m out here, I don’t really want to go anywhere where they don’t have legal marijuana,” said 36-year-old Ernie Falconer, a New Jersey native who moved to the Denver suburbs last year and immediately registered as a medical marijuana patient.
“It’s not such a taboo thing out here,” he said. “You don’t have to feel like a criminal just because you enjoy marijuana.”