New Jersey is poised to legalize recreational cannabis very soon. Governor Phil Murphy has approved a bill that’s set for a vote sometime in May. Despite some hiccups on the original voting day, March 25, 2019, New Jersey will likely make history by legalizing cannabis by the end of the year.
Governor Murphy strongly advocates for recreational cannabis and the industry’s potential tax revenue to fund public programs. As a candidate, the governor promised to pass a legal cannabis bill within 100 days in office.
Although his self-imposed time limit has passed, New Jersey has made considerable progress in its legalization efforts, but not without some legislative gridlock.
Legislative Gridlock Delays Legalization
New Jersey residents and legislative leaders have shown resounding support for recreational marijuana. Governor Murphy even indicated that he’ll expand on the medical marijuana program if a bill isn’t passed by May 2019. The expansion would license more dispensaries and increase monthly purchase limits.
Lawmakers have coupled the recreational cannabis bill with a medical marijuana expansion bill to increase legislative support for the bill. Although adding the medical marijuana amendment bolstered the bill through two legislative committee votes, Senate President Stephen Sweeney pulled the bill last-minute. They did not have the 21 votes needed to pass it even though Democrats currently control both the state Assembly and Senate.
Democrats Fear Backlash to Legalization
Despite the upsurge in support for legalization, legislative leaders are at odds about the details of the proposed program. Democratic Senator Ron Rice voiced concern about the bill increasing cannabis use in African-American neighborhoods. He also felt strongly that past criminal convictions should be expunged for minorities.
Democratic State Senator Shirley Turner voiced her worries about underage drug use after a trip to Colorado that opened her eyes to the issue. Nia Gill, another Democratic senator, offered a study showing that legalization didn’t reduce cannabis arrests for black residents.
Murphy even extended an olive branch to legislators by offering to reimburse communities that hired law enforcement trained in detecting drivers under the influence of marijuana. Republican Senator Christopher Bateman cited the lack of sobriety tests in Colorado and New Jersey’s higher car count.
Expungement, Taxes, and Possession Limits
Provisions in the bill aim to allow people with cannabis convictions to work in the cannabis industry. The bill would expunge convictions for possession of 50 grams or less, but a last-minute change increased the limit to 5 pounds. If passed, the bill would be one of the most progressive expungement programs in the nation.
Under the bill, growers would have to pay an excise tax of $42 per ounce. Municipalities could also add anywhere between a 1% and 3% tax to retailers, cultivators, or wholesalers. New Jersey’s recreational bill would also allow delivery services and cannabis lounges, but not growing cannabis at home.
New Jersey Cannabis Legalization is on the Horizon
Out of all of the recreational states, only Vermont passed recreational cannabis laws through state legislature rather than a ballot initiative. New York and Connecticut have also tried to pass recreational laws through legislative measures. Once lawmakers agree on issues like youth cannabis use and tax revenues, New Jersey residents will be able to consume cannabis freely and openly.