Lawmakers reach legal weed deal
After more than a year of negotiations, Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders have reached a final deal on New Jersey marijuana legalization.
Ryan Ross and Mike Davis, Asbury Park Press
TRENTON, N.J. – After more than a year of negotiations, Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders have reached a final deal on New Jersey marijuana legalization. A vote to legalize weed in the Garden State could come later this month.
“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy said in a statement. “I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities, while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.”
In a statement, the officials confirmed that New Jersey would tax legal weed at a flat rate of $42 per ounce, imposed when the cannabis plants are grown and eventually passed onto the consumer.
Local municipalities will be eligible to receive tax revenue from legal weed if they allow marijuana businesses in their town – 3 percent in municipalities with a legal weed dispensary, 2 percent in municipalities with a marijuana cultivation or manufacturing facility and 1 percent in municipalities with a wholesaler.
The New Jersey cannabis industry will be regulated by an independent, five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Three commissioners will be appointed by the governor and two will come from the Senate president and Assembly speaker.
The commission will be in charge of licensing marijuana dispensaries and creating rules and regulations governing the industry.
The Senate and Assembly have a voting session scheduled for March 25, meaning a legal weed vote could come as soon as then. But Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has previously said that they wouldn’t put the legal weed bill up for a vote unless they were sure it would pass.
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It’s still unclear if New Jersey marijuana legalization would garner enough votes to pass in either chamber.
“This plan will allow for the adult use of cannabis in a responsible way,” Sweeney said. “It 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 since the end of Prohibition.
“This plan will also advance important social justice reforms to help reverse the discriminatory impact that drug laws have had on diverse communities,” he said.
The bill also outlines a process for expedited expungements of low-level marijuana offenses, such as possession of under one ounce of the drug, and would automatically prevent them from disqualifying someone for various educational, housing and job opportunities.
In a statement, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Morris, called the legal weed bill a “shameful abdication” of the government’s responsibility to “safeguard public health and safety.
“The social justice argument for marijuana legalization is utter B.S.,” Cardinale said. “The judges and prosecutors who are handling marijuana sentences are simply following our existing drug laws. They were appointed by the administration with the consent of the state Senate.
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“If they are not doing their job in a color-blind fashion, then let’s hold them accountable that egregious offense. The answer isn’t to legalize a dangerous drug, and put more people in harm’s way,” he said.
“The time for legalization has come. The old ‘reefer madness’ myths have been dispelled,” New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder said in a statement. “We know legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis and expanding medical cannabis in New Jersey will address issues of social justice, help the state’s economy, and create a new, thriving workforce.
“It is time. Time to bring New Jersey in line with other states that have moved ahead with legalization and realized the numerous benefits it brings,” he said.
The full bill text has not been released.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @byMikeDavis
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