Bill Implementing Adult-Use Marijuana Referendum Advances in Senate

Trenton – Acting to implement the public referendum legalizing adult-use marijuana approved by the voters, the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari and Senate President Steve Sweeney that will create the organizational and regulatory system needed to oversee the operations of the cannabis industry in New Jersey.

“By implementing a regulated system that allows people age 21 and over to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use we will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union), the leading advocate of legalizing adult-use marijuana in New Jersey. “As a municipal prosecutor, I have seen the effects of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ with failed laws that have a prejudicial impact on communities of color. Too many people are arrested, incarcerated and left with criminal records that disrupt and even destroy their lives. New Jersey can be a national leader in legalizing a once stigmatized drug.”

The legislation, S-21, would dedicate 70 percent of the sales tax revenue and 100 percent of the “Social Equity Excise Fees” on cultivators to aid “impact zones,” the communities hurt most by the drug laws. The remaining 30 percent of the sales tax revenue would fund the operations of the Regulatory Commission and support state, county and municipal law enforcement in training and equipment for Drug Recognition Experts.

“This is a historic step forward for New Jersey that will put us in the forefront of the reform movement,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults. This represents a significant change in public policy that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy.”

Senator Sweeney said the creation of a new cannabis industry in New Jersey with cultivators, processors, wholesalers, distributors, retailers and deliverers could create thousands of jobs in sales, production and related services. The new cannabis industry could create 43,000 jobs in the state, he said. New Jersey will be the largest state in the Northeast to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The measure would cap the number of cannabis facilities at 37 for the first 24 months after enactment of the legislation.

Municipalities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities. Those that choose to allow them would be allowed to collect a two-percent tax and retain the revenue.

In addition to doing away with criminal penalties that have been disproportionately imposed on minority communities, the bill includes other social justice provisions, including business incentives for minorities, women and disabled veterans to help them participate in the industry.

The estimated $143 million now spent in New Jersey to enforce marijuana laws could be used by law enforcement to combat serious crimes, said Senator Scutari, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The cannabis law and operations would be governed by a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will adopt regulations to govern the industry. The commission includes three members appointed by the Governor and one each recommended by the Assembly Speaker and the Senate President.

The committee vote on the bill was 6-5. The measure now goes to the full Senate.