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Bill Implementing Adult Use Marijuana Referendum Gains Committee Approval

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 an organizational and regulatory system to oversee the operations of the cannabis industry in New Jersey.

The ballot question was approved by the voters with a two-to-one margin. New Jersey will be the largest state in the Northeast to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

“The public recognizes that ‘marijuana prohibition’ has been a failed policy,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union), who also authored the law creating New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. “We can do away with punitive laws that fall the hardest on minorities and create a regulatory system that ensures the safe use of cannabis products by adults. Legalization will deliver social justice reforms and create a new business sector that produces economic opportunities.”

Senator Scutari said that the Legislature is also advancing a marijuana decriminalization bill in conjunction with the legalization measure.

“This is an historic step forward for New Jersey,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “With the public’s approval, we will 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 safe and 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 economy.”

Senator Sweeney said the creation of a new cannabis industry in New Jersey with growers, processors, wholesalers and retailers could create thousands of jobs in sales, production and related services.

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 will include three members appointed by the Governor and one each recommended by the Assembly Speaker and the Senate President.

Municipalities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities.

In addition to doing away with criminal penalties that have been disproportionately imposed on minority communities, the bill includes other social justice provisions, including the designation of “impact zones” with preference for new cannabis businesses, and incentives for minorities, women and disabled veterans to participate in the industry.

The estimated $127 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 committee vote on the bill, S-21, was 6-1-3. The bill now goes to the Senate Budget Committee.