TRENTON – Legislation that would legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey gained the approval of a Senate committee today. Sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari and Senate President Steve Sweeney, the bill, S-2703, would legalize the possession and use of limited amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older and create an organizational and regulatory system to oversee the operations of the cannabis business.
“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union), who also authored the law creating New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. “It is time to end the detrimental effect these archaic drug laws are having on our residents and make adult use marijuana legal. This bill 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 for decades.”
“This represents a significant change in public policy that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement, the economy and the lives of people in communities throughout New Jersey,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “We developed a thorough and thoughtful plan that will put in place rules and regulations that allow for adult use cannabis in a responsible way. As a regulated product, legal marijuana will be safe and controlled.”
The legislation, entitled the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Modernization Act,” was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 6-4-1. The committee substitute reflects the agreement among Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and is the product of extensive work by the bill’s sponsors.
In addition to abolishing the criminal penalties that have been disproportionately imposed on minority communities, the bill includes other social justice reforms, including the expungement of past convictions, 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.
Under the bill, cannabis would be subject to an excise tax of $42 per ounce, imposed when marijuana is cultivated. In addition, municipalities that are home to a cultivator or manufacturer can choose to receive the revenue from a two percent tax on growers and processors, three percent for retail operations and one percent for wholesale facilities.
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 all regulations to govern the industry. The commission would include three members appointed by the Governor and one each recommended by the Assembly Speaker and Senate President.