NJ Spotlight | February 21, 2019
Lawmakers appear to have resolved problems with proposed legislation, but not all are convinced of the wisdom of legalization.
While a potential deal on marijuana legalization apparently is imminent in the State House, the outcome depends on some big maybes, not least of which is whether Gov. Phil Murphy can whip some votes.
“I am told, and we have read hundreds of times that the governor of the state of New Jersey is the most powerful chief executive in the land and he’s going to need to use that to help the Senate president, and myself and the speaker to get us some votes,” said Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union), who has been a driving force behind the legalization effort.
Lawmakers have agreed to a flat tax of $42 per ounce, a switch from a percentage of the sale price previously envisaged. They’ve also agreed the governor will appoint three of the five members to the Cannabis Control Commission.
But not every legislator is as keen as Scutari. Newark’s Sen. Ron Rice, for one, said he’s “still a no.” In a statement Tuesday, he said, “Every day there is new information about why we shouldn’t do this.”
Read the full story on NJTV News Online, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.
By: Daniel J. Munoz
Gov. Phil Murphy said he’s “optimistic” about finalizing a deal on a long-awaited bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in New Jersey, but he has no timeline on when that will happen or when lawmakers will vote on the measure.
“We’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line, but I think we’re all working really hard to get this done,” Murphy said at an unrelated press conference in Piscataway late Tuesday morning.
According to media reports, Murphy and the state Legislature’s two top Democrats — Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District — struck a deal late last week to enact a flat $42/ounce tax on marijuana.
Under the deal, regulation of the industry would be in the hands of the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission — Murphy would be able to pick three members without needing Senate approval.
“We had a very productive meeting Thursday,” Murphy added, which drew out the agreement of Coughlin, who also attended the bill signing event Tuesday expanding paid family leave. “This is complicated. We’re standing up an entire industry from scratch.”
“I think we’re all optimistic about being able to get the ball over the goal line,” Coughlin said.
Murphy would likely have to drum up support in the Senate and Assembly to get the votes — 21 and 41 respectively — to pass the measure and get the bill to his desk. But Murphy did not have any update on the progress of those lobbying efforts.
By Sam Sutton
02/16/2019 09:00 PM EDT
Significant details of a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey still need to be finalized, even though Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have reached a broad agreement on key elements of the measure, three sources close to the discussions said Saturday.
There still isn’t a consensus on the rate at which local governments could tax recreational cannabis sales, which the current bill caps at 2 percent. Local governments, led by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, want to impose a tax as high as 5 percent to pay for some of the necessary changes that will come with legalized pot.
“That’s still being worked out,” said state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the legalization bill’s lead sponsor and a central player in negotiations between the governor’s office, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
“We still believe that the flexibility to pass an up to 5 [percent] local excise is appropriate,” Michael Cerra, assistant executive director for the League of Municipalities, said in an email. “We don’t view … that as a line in the sand however and hope that since it now appears that the other major issues are close to resolution that we can have that discussion.”
Scutari emphasized that while the principal players have agreed on a framework for the bill, NJ S2703 (18R), there are still elements that need to be hashed out. Another point being discussed, he said, would give the commission tasked with regulating the industry the authority to review cannabis sales tax rates in the future.
Under terms agreed to this week, the Senate will waive the advice and consent process for Murphy’s three picks to the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission. The parties also agreed to a $42 per-ounce tax on recreational cannabis sales, as opposed to basing the tax on a percentage of the sales price, sources close to the talks said.
Disagreements over taxation and regulation were the primary stumbling blocks to getting Murphy on board with the legislation. With an agreement in place, all three leaders will start whipping votes in support of the bill.
By Nikita Biryukov
New Jersey Globe
Legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy may be nearing a deal on marijuana legalization, State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) told the New Jersey Globe Thursday.
“There’s a possibility that we have an agreement by next week,” Scutari said.
Marijuana legalization stalled last year after opposition from within Senate President Steve Sweeney’s caucus stopped the marijuana legalization package from reaching a 21-vote threshold in the legislature’s upper chamber.
Part of the trouble there may lie in Murphy and legislative leaders butting heads over the tax rate for recreational marijuana sales.
If the two reach a deal, they may be able to gin up the 21 votes needed to pass the measure.
By Susan K. Livio
NJ Advance Media
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the prime sponsor of the bill to legalize adult-use marijuana in New Jersey, told NJ Cannabis Insider he’s “losing faith” that Senate Democrats and Gov. Phil Murphy will come to an agreement.
The concern is so acute Scutari said he and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney have discussed letting the voters decide by putting the issue on the November ballot that, if approved, would amend the state constitution.
“It’s not my preference,” said Scutari, D-Union, “but I think it might be a lot easier to let the people decide.”
It would likely be easier to win votes in the state Senate and Assembly for a ballot question than an outright vote on legalization, he added.
The state Legislature would need to pass a bill by three-fifths majority to put a question on the November ballot, according to the state constitution.
Scutari said one of the latest compromises Sweeney, D-Gloucester, verbally offered a month ago would let the governor choose three of the five members on the proposed Cannabis Regulatory Commission — without the legally mandated “advice and consent” of the Senate.
Payton Guion | NJ Advance Media
2018 was supposed to be the year of legal weed in New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy rode into office last January on a promise to quickly legalize marijuana. He said it would bring money and social justice along with it. But lawmakers couldn’t get legal weed through the Legislature, and here we are in 2019.
It’s still unclear when exactly the Legislature will vote on legalization.
As New Jersey debates the details, potential damage mounts. New Jersey risks losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue as recreational marijuana gets increasingly palatable across the country. At the same time, people keep getting arrested for something likely to be legal soon.
Here are six ways New Jersey could lose out if lawmakers don’t act on marijuana soon.
With a shrinking marketplace for their products, tobacco companies — unsurprisingly — are looking to adapt to the changing marketplace.
Take, for instance, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, Altria.
Last month, Altria announced it was abandoning its e-cigarette brands as it eyed “reduced-risk tobacco product opportunities,” including but not limited to a minority ownership stake in Juul, as well as a partnership with Philip Morris on its tobacco vape, pending FDA approval.
Also, you may have heard Altria invested nearly $2 billion in Cronos Group, the Canadian cannabis company, purchasing a 45 percent ownership interest with an option to acquire more.
Altria is the fourth largest tobacco company in the world, with Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco taking the top three spots, respectively.
What does this mean for the cannabis industry as a whole?
Efforts to legalize marijuana gained momentum when the legislation sailed through multiple committees two weeks ago — only to have it all grind to a halt again as Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democratic lawmakers have since refused to meet.
A private negotiating session scheduled for Thursday will likely determine whether or not they end 2018 keeping a public promise to end pot prohibition.
Representatives for Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, confirmed the meeting and that cannabis is on Thursday’s agenda. It’s likely the last time the governor, the speaker and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, will meet before 2018′s last scheduled voting session is held on Monday.
Sweeney said he’s still holding out hope the meeting will lead to an accord on the final sticking points on the bill legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over.
“Until we have communication with the governor, we won’t know,” Sweeney said.
Murphy remains opposed to creating a full-time Cannabis Regulatory Commission that would be empowered to control the industry, including the medicinal marijuana program. The latest version of the bill requires an examination at the three-year mark to see if the commission is doing its job and should be scaled back. It’s a compromise acknowledging the governor’s concern about having too much power, Sweeney said.
“We felt a full-time commission, to deal with the licensing, was important. It was what they did with casinos” after gambling casino gambling was legalized Sweeney said.
Murphy has declined to publicly discuss what he finds objectionable in the marijuana legislation.
Coughlin last week told NJ Cannabis Insider he still believes a deal still can be reached and that he was “not ready to give up on Dec. 17.”
Hugh O’Beirne, president of New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, said he doesn’t have a problem waiting a little longer for a compromise.
“I don’t think this is kicking the can down the road. I actually think there are real issues in the state that sort of caution a careful approach, which means getting it right and getting the requisite buy-in from the legislature and the municipalities,” O’Beirne said.