Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey regroup after recreational legalization efforts unravel

In recent weeks recreational marijuana bills in both New Jersey and neighboring New York State have become unraveled. However, unraveled does not necessarily mean completely dead. While New York lawmakers attempt to stitch together a new bill, New Jersey has kicked its adult-use measures down the road into 2020 in favor of a medical program upgrade.

New York State lawmakers renew attempts at adult-use measures

After previous efforts to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana in the state of New York stalled last month, sponsors of the measure have announced their intention to introduce a new bill revised to appease some of the holdouts.

According to State Senator Liz Krueger who spoke to Karen DeWitt of WAMC radio, "the new bill incorporates some of the ideas the governor and legislature came up with when they talked about the issue during the budget talks. We’ve attempted to take all of the negotiated agreements that took place during budget negotiations and expand our bill.”

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Included in the revised bill is the establishment of a single government agency responsible for all regulatory duties related to cannabis in the state, including both marijuana and hemp products.

According to Democratic Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, social equity provisions are still a key provision in the new bill. The measure sets aside a portion of the tax revenue from marijuana sales to be distributed to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the failed war on drugs.

"I am working on amending the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to incorporate many aspects of Governor Cuomo's proposal, including having one regulatory body overseeing medical marijuana, hemp extracts, and adult-use cannabis, while preserving the core principles of MRTA, such as significant dedicated investment in communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition, equity in the industry, permitting individuals to grow cannabis for personal use, and addressing past criminal convictions. It is my hope that this legislation will be approved by the Legislature, and there will not be a need to take up separate legislation that updates the medical marijuana program, and regulates hemp/CBD.” — Democratic Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes

One of the more contentious sticking points on the table is a provision allowing residents to grow their own marijuana. At a press conference last December, Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed his intention to prevent Big Tobacco from coming into the state and setting up a marijuana monopoly.

Another matter of contention in the previous bill was the mass expunging of criminal records for those convicted of marijuana-related charges. The new language, rather than removing these convictions, will “seal” them from the public.

Another provision in the revised bill would expand the state’s medical marijuana program and put the ability to determine if patients can benefit from medical cannabis therapy into the hands of physicians rather than forcing upon them a list of specific qualifying conditions.

According to Krueger the Senate still does not have enough votes to pass the recreational-use legislation.

New Jersey bill dies, but saves medical patients

Across the river in New Jersey, Senate President Steve Sweeney, having failed to secure enough votes is giving up on the effort to legalize recreational marijuana through an act of the Legislature and instead opting to let voters decide on the matter down the road.

A vote scheduled to take place in March was terminated after it became clear the measure would be defeated in the Senate. In its stead, legislation to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and expunge existing marijuana convictions is being fast-tracked.

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“The votes aren't there. I'm disappointed,” Sweeney said in a press conference. “The 2020 general election, I think, will be successful, and we will move forward with adult use.”

Sweeney also announced his intention to work with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other sponsors of the bill to “update” the legislation in an attempt to get the bills passed by the end of June.

“I’m disappointed that we are currently unable to pass the adult-use cannabis bill. I agree with the Senate President’s decision to move ahead with a bill to fix the flaws in the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act and make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who could benefit from it. I am pleased to learn the Senate President also plans to act on legislation that would revise the procedures for expunging records of certain marijuana-related convictions. Broader regulation around expungement will give thousands of New Jerseyans the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and clean the slate making it easier to gain employment, buy a home, or get a loan.“ — New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin

Beginning next week, the state Health Department will be given the legal authority to expand the supply of medical cannabis in New Jersey and create a permit-granting system that is expected to open the door to smaller entrepreneurs and promote the industry’s growth. The new rules will also permit the health commissioner to add new qualifying medical conditions to the program.

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A number of rule changes which took effect 14 months ago under an executive order by Gov. Murphy are included in the new measures, including a reduction in the registration fee, the ability of patients to designate up to two primary caregivers instead of just one, the addition of anxiety, chronic pain, migraines, Tourette syndrome, and Opioid Use Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. The changes also expand the forms of medical marijuana available for patients to include oil-based products.

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