Democrats introduce 4 bills to ease state’s marijuana restrictions

February 22, 2018

By Matt Friedman

Businesses that won’t hire applicants because they test positive for marijuana would find themselves ineligible for incentives from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, under legislation recently introduced.

The bill, NJ A3535, which does not yet appear online, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, was one of several introduced last week that seek to make New Jersey a more marijuana-friendly state — even as resistance in the state Legislature has made it clear that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s wish to legalize recreational marijuana may not happen any time soon.

“I believe that our incentive programs need to be an extension of our values,” Quijano, who represents Union County, said in a phone interview. “And we shouldn’t reward companies who fire their workers for doing something that is currently medically legal in New Jersey, and recreationally legal in about eight U.S. states and Washington, D.C.”

The EDA has doled out billions in controversial tax breaks aimed at boosting the state’s economy.

Under Quijano’s bill, the EDA would adopt rules and regulations barring businesses that receive financial assistance from “taking any adverse employment action” against an employee or applicant based on their testing positive for marijuana. And businesses would sign an agreement not to fire marijuana-using employees as part of their standard contract with the EDA. If businesses violate the agreement, the EDA could stop financial assistance or even force them to give it back.

There are several exceptions in the bill. The ban would not apply if it would cause a business to lose money or a license under state or federal law, if marijuana use by employees “poses an actual threat or harm or danger” and if the employee’s use of marijuana makes him or her “incapable of performing an essential job duty.” The bill would still allow businesses to fire employees caught using marijuana on the job.

Jeanette Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the anti-marijuana legalization organization New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, said her group opposes the bill.

“For a multitude of reasons, ranging from safety to productivity to liability, New Jersey employers should have the ability to maintain a drug-free work environment,” Hoffman said in a statement. “The state EDA shouldn’t punish employers for trying to keep drugs — whether legal or illegal — out of the workforce.”

The state’s use of corporate incentives ballooned under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, totaling $8.3 billion during his eight years in office. Murphy has indicated he will consider scaling back the tax break programs.

Three other bills were also introduced last week that seek to increase access to New Jersey’s notoriously strict medical marijuana program.

Assemblymen Reed Gusciora and Tim Eustace, both Democrats, proposed a bill, NJ A3437, that would greatly loosen New Jersey’s medical marijuana law. The bill does not yet appear online.

Gusciora said the bill was written in anticipation of the findings of a panel Murphy created last month to look at easing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and increasing the number of dispensaries. The bill would require the state to allow 12 new dispensaries to open, bringing the total to 18. None of the new dispensaries would be permitted to grow marijuana, which those now operating do. But if the patient registry increases from its current 16,000 to 270,000, the bill would permit up to three more growers and nine more dispensaries.

Patients seeking to take part in the program would have to pay a $50 registration fee, down from the current $200, while indigent patients would see the fee decrease from $20 to $10. Convictions for possession and sale of marijuana would no longer disqualify applicants who want to run dispensaries or provide marijuana to patients for whom they are caring — unless the conviction was for selling more than 50 pounds of the drug or growing more than 50 plants.

And doctors would no longer have to enroll in a registry to prescribe marijuana.

“You have physicians that can prescribe cocaine and morphine, but even though they went to medical school, they can’t prescribe marijuana,” Gusciora said.

Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling, along with state Sen. Vin Gopal — all Democrats from Monmouth County — introduced a bill that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell cannabis oil. It would also remove the monthly two-ounce restriction on medical marijuana, allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell oils and remove a restriction that only allows them to sell edible marijuana products to minors.

The bill, NJ A 3421 (18R) is named “Jake Honig’s Law” after a 7-year-old boy who died of brain cancer last month. Honig, known affectionately as “Jake the Tank,” used cannabis oil to improve his quality of life, including cutting down on medications that had side effects. Downey said the boy’s parents were forced to make the oil themselves.

“The parents go and get the flower and they have to go through the whole process to make the oil themselves. They don’t know if they’re doing it the same way each time,” Downey said. “It alleviated the acid reflux, the vomiting, the nausea, all those terrible side effects.”

Democratic State Sen. Shirley Turner also introduced a bill, NJ S 1847 (18R) to exempt medical marijuana from the state sales tax.

Although many lawmakers favor full-scale legalization, Murphy — who also supports it — is facing the hard reality that the votes are not there in the Legislature at this moment.

Last week, state Sen. Ronald Rice, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he would put forward a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, but that he opposes legalizing it.

Bill Caruso, a lobbyist and founding member of the pro-legalization New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said the flood of bills easing marijuana restrictions are a good sign. He noted that Rice, who at last week’s press conference spoke positively about medical marijuana, voted against the law in 2009.

Caruso said he believes that for all the disparate ideas regarding marijuana right now, lawmakers could come together during the budget process on a larger agreement.

“As we see in many, many policy initiatives that have gone through the legislative process, June is the time of the year a lot of hard concepts are worked through,” Caruso said. “You have a proliferation of new legislation That shows me there’s an interest in getting something done here and that could all come together in the next couple months.”

Where can you light up if N.J. legalizes weed? Here’s one politician’s plan

February 21, 2018

If New Jersey passes a law to permit adults to use marijuana recreationally, where should they be allowed to consume it?

Forcing people to light up at home may not be practical, said state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the driving force pushing for legalization in the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature.

Creating a “consumption zone” could be the way to go, Scutari, a municipal prosecutor, tells NJ Cannabis Insider.

“Some private homes are really not appropriate for consumption, such as apartment buildings or public housing,” Scutari said. “We’re looking to kind of flesh that out to allow people to consume without interfering with other people’s enjoyment of life. Perhaps something adjacent to the dispensaries.”

Scutari is expected to amend the legalization bill he introduced in the last legislative session, to address these and other issues.

Full article 

N.J. medical marijuana growers are ready to expand. Will Phil Murphy let them?

February 20, 2018

As New Jersey’s first medicinal marijuana provider six years ago, the founder of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair said he and his partners drained their bank accounts when lenders would not touch them. They tangled with a distrustful administration of then-Gov. Chris Christie before and after they opened.

Now that the state has a governor who is willing to expand the medical marijuana program and legalize recreational cannabis, Greenleaf’s CEO Julio Valentin and other dispensary owners who took the early financial and legal risks say they are ready to step up and serve this growing market.

“I’ve proven myself before and I can do it again,” Valentin said in a recent interview. “Just give me the opportunity to do what I do.”

But despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s support of cannabis, his administration delayed what many expected he would do right away: adopt a medical advisory panel’s recommendation to add broad conditions like chronic pain and anxiety.

Doing so likely would have opened the door to thousands of patients. Murphy says he’s waiting for the results of a 60-day audit of the medicinal program before he discusses his next move.

Murphy officials are concerned New Jersey’s five dispensaries won’t be able to meet the demands of a larger patient base beyond the nearly 16,000 people enrolled in the medical program, according to insiders privy to the conversations.

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Menendez, Booker Among Senators Urging Feds to Respect Local Pot Laws

February 16, 2018

Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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As New Jersey officials move toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is asking the Trump administration to respect local laws regarding access to weed.

New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker are among the lawmakers signing off on a letter urging the Senate Committee on Appropriations to continue Obama-era policies “to respect states’ laws regarding the regulation of marijuana” when finalizing fiscal year 2018 appropriations.

The letter argues that Trump administration policy changes toward marijuana under Attorney General Jeff Sessions have resulted in “disruption, confusion and uncertainty throughout the country. Citizens who have been acting in good faith based on federal and state assurances now feel exposed. This disruption may deny medications to the sick, push individuals back into illicit markets, and nullify the previously-effective regulations—all while thwarting the democratically-expressed will of the states.”

“It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the Attorney General’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” the letter said.

Continue reading article.

New Jersey Should Legalize Marijuana

December 1, 2017

By Amol Sinha, Executive Director, ACLU of New Jersey

Close up of a pile of marijuana bud

New Jersey stands at a crossroads on a defining civil rights struggle of our time: the enforcement of unjust marijuana possession laws. Each year, New Jersey police have set new records for marijuana possession arrests, making the largest number ever in 2015: 24,985. Enforcement of marijuana prohibition exacerbates deep racial disparities in our criminal justice system and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

All of this for a substance that the majority of New Jerseyans and Americans — in both major political parties — believe should be legal.

Full story:  ACLU blog.

Lodi preparing for possibility of legal marijuana by considering new ordinances

November 28, 2017

by , Staff Writer, NorthJersey.com

In anticipation of Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s making good on his campaign promise to legalize marijuana, the Borough Council is taking a closer look at its smoke shop ordinances and considering new regulations.

“Before this happens, we need to have something in place,” Borough Manager Vincent Caruso said at a recent council meeting.

Lodi currently has three smoke shops.

Borough Attorney Alan Spiniello said at Tuesday’s meeting that he will look into the borough’s existing ordinances. Further action, he said, could include limiting the number of smoke shops in town.

Read more here…

Giving pot the green light

November 16, 2017

Payton Guion For The Star-Ledger

Now that a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey is likely to become law, leaders of the state’s 565 municipalities could soon face a choice.

Do they allow businesses to produce and sell cannabis in their towns, potentially reaping the benefits of a new industry and millions of dollars in tax revenue?

Or do they restrict pot sales, missing out on the money but possibly avoiding some of the collateral problems that may come with the sale of recreational marijuana?

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, would legalize the possession and personal use of small amounts of recreational marijuana across the state. The bill allows individual towns to decide if they will allow pot sales, but says the towns that don’t won’t receive their share of the estimated $300 million in annual tax revenue marijuana is expected to generate.

With Phil Murphy the governor-elect of New Jersey, towns could face these decisions in the coming months. Murphy has said he’d sign the bill within his first 100 days in office, though the incoming Assembly speaker, Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, suggested a more deliberate pace may be in store for such legislation.

Full story:  The Star Ledger

Marijuana retailers group forms, anticipating recreational legalization

November 15, 2017

By Lynda Cohen, ROINJ

One group is ready to turn marijuana into a booming business for New Jersey.

Anticipating legalization of the drug for recreational use, the New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association is ready to work with other stakeholders to shepherd in responsible business practices and opportunities.

“Our goal is to have our members represent the most respected, business-focused and compliance-driven class of the licensed, marijuana-retailer businesses,” said association President Juan Carlos Negrin. “The NJMRA was formed with a mission to advocate, educate and to deal with legislative, licensing and regulatory issues affecting the marijuana retail industry at the state level.”

The association sees substantial economic opportunity for a number of industries, small business owners and entrepreneurs. These include farmers, growers and harvesters, the trucking industry, and suppliers, wholesalers and retailers.

With incoming Gov.-elect Phil Murphy and residents in favor of legalizing pot for recreational use, the association says the time is right.

A Quinnipiac University poll in September showed 59 percent of state voters support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. About 38 percent were against it.

“With this polling data showing strong support to take marijuana sales out of the black market,” association Director Lorna O’Hara said, “we are forming this association to ensure not only that the retailers have a seat at the table, but also that their voice is heard. At the same time, we are setting the highest standard for those business owners who choose to be retailers in this industry.”

Full story:  ROINJ

N.J. Marijuana Retailers Association: Advocacy, Integrity and Growth

November 14, 2017

In anticipation of the state of New Jersey legalizing marijuana for recreational use, a statewide group is establishing an organization of responsible retailers to seek economic growth and jobs, advocate for members and help them navigate the challenges facing this emerging industry.

The New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association – NJMRA.org – is ready to work with other stakeholders to shepherd responsible business practices and opportunities in this emerging industry.

“Our goal is to have our members represent the most respected, business-focused and compliance-driven class of the licensed, marijuana-retailer businesses,” explains Juan Carlos Negrin, president of the association. “The NJMRA was formed with a mission to advocate, educate and to deal with legislative, licensing and regulatory issues affecting the marijuana retail industry at the state level.”

The New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association sees substantial economic opportunity for a number of industries, small-business owners, and entrepreneurs. These include farmers, growers and harvesters, the trucking industry, and suppliers, wholesalers and retailers.

The time is right for the NJMRA to form, due to administrations changing in Trenton this January and residents clearly in favor of legal recreational use. According to a Quinnipiac University poll in September, “Garden State voters support, 59 to 38 percent, allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.”

“With this polling data showing strong support to take marijuana sales out of the black market,” says Lorna O’Hara, Association Director, “we are forming this association to ensure not only that the retailers have a seat at the table but also that their voice is heard. At the same time, we are setting the highest standard for those business owners who choose to be retailers in this industry.”

New Jersey, where medical marijuana is legal, would join seven states and the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational use: Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington state, Alaska, Maine, California, and Nevada. According to Businessinsider.com, the industry is on track to post $20.2 billion in sales by 2021.

When will pot be legal to buy in N.J.? Here’s the timeline.

November 13, 2017

By Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

When Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno in the governor’s race Tuesday night, a wide array of entrepreneurs and elected officials knew they could march ahead with something brand new in New Jersey:
Legalizing recreational marijuana.

Murphy campaigned on a promise to sign a bill to make pot legal, something that would usher in a new market that could be worth $1.3 billion.

And, of course, many of you are awaiting the day when you can legally light up in the Garden State.

Full story:  NJ.com