In November 2020, New Jersey residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. In the months that have followed, Gov. Phil Murphy has continuously hesitated to sign a bill into law.
NJ Legalization Efforts Lost in the Details
Voters approved New Jersey Public Question 1 on November 3rd, amending the state constitution and allowing adults over 21 to recreationally use marijuana. Since then, compromises have been caught up in the same disputes that halted legalization efforts back in 2018 and 2019. Penalties, regulation, and taxation are up in the air, and – while ideas are floated – marijuana-related arrests continue to be made.
Last month, it was reported that, despite state Attorney General Gubir Grewar urging prosecutors to not take on petty cannabis cases, the Newark Police Department showed a 23% increase in marijuana possession arrests from January 2020 to January 2021. Justin Leiby, Associate Professor of Accountancy and publisher of the crime report data, asked, “What’s the point of arresting people for something prosecutors have been ordered to ignore? Note that I am not criticizing the officers doing the arrests, or really even the Newark Police Department. Officers are doing their jobs. If you tell them it’s not their job to arrest people for marijuana possession, then most if not all of them would stop the arrests.”
As law enforcement attempts to pivot, lawmakers are tasked with determining how the adult-use cannabis program will operate. While the 2020 ballot referendum legalized the recreational use of cannabis, it didn’t spell out a regulatory framework of any kind. And although legislature is most likely to look to Senator Nicholas Scutari’s 2018 recreational marijuana legalization bill as a foundation, there are still key areas that need to be addressed. Gov. Murphy has suggested that he will not sign the bills until they establish clear civil penalties for people under 21 caught with marijuana. A new proposal may be giving Gov. Murphy exactly what he wants.
Legal Weed in New Jersey: Quick Look at the Bill
The bill being considered would fast-track existing medical marijuana operators and put cultivation caps in place for the first two years, with licensing set to meet increasing demands. If reality falls in line with projections, New Jersey’s market is expected to light a fire across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and the pressure will be on New York and Pennsylvania to legalize and garner a piece of the profits.
Specific provisions in New Jersey’s bill include special licensing priority for applicants from economically disadvantaged communities and areas impacted by the War on Drugs. Some more key provisions mentioned in the legislation are:
- Existing medical marijuana operators could begin recreational sales immediately (upon obtaining proper licenses), but only if they have enough supply to sufficiently meet medical cannabis demands.
- Six classes of licences would be established: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer, and delivery.
- Cultivation licenses would be capped at 37 for the first two years, but that doesn’t include resident-owned microbusinesses.
- The Cannabis Regulatory Commission would determine the number of licenses for each class, based on “market demand”.
- 7% tax for recreational sales, with the possibility of a fluctuating “social equity excise fee” on growers.
- Proceeds from excise fee and 70% of sales tax would benefit areas harmed by marijuana prohibition.
What is Stalling NJ Marijuana Legalization?
It all falls back on Gov. Murphy’s demand. The bill was said to have stalled on his desk in late December because it failed to establish clear penalties for those under 21 in possession of marijuana.
For the past six weeks, lawmakers have debated over how to handle those penalties. “Cleanup bills” have been introduced, with the latest calling for small fines and written warnings for minors in possession of marijuana.
The bill also includes specific details on police interactions with underage people caught with marijuana. Cops are required to undergo training focused on interactions and avoiding implicit racial bias in enforcing the penalties. While the clear penalties are there to appease Gov. Murphy, the clear police training shows effort to appeal to the Black Legislative Caucus, which has voiced concern over the penalties disproportionately targeting black and brown youth.
While the committee was expected to vote on the matter this Tuesday, February 16th, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Nick Scutari announced that the bill was being held for an upcoming, unscheduled hearing on Wednesday. Check back with The Weed Blog for future updates on marijuana legalization in New Jersey.
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