New Jersey Assemblyman Offers Alternative To Senate Cannabis Bill

New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, (D) has introduced a new marijuana legalization bill in the Garden State. The legislation, should it pass as is, will establish a regulated and taxed recreational marijuana industry with potentially hundreds of dispensaries and the right to grow at home.

Another bill being considered by The Senate and Assembly, proposed by Senator Nick Scutari, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, takes a more conservative approach allowing for fewer merchants and setting higher taxes. However, there are still lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are altogether opposed to legalizing marijuana. Some of them are proposing instead the idea of decriminalizing marijuana rather than turning it into a regulated industry.

According to a report on App.com, Jeanette Hoffman, a spokeswoman for anti-legalization advocacy group New Jersey Responsible Approaches To Marijuana Policy said, "We've seen from other states that the tax revenues from legalization pale in comparison to the costs associated with drugged driving, more hospital admissions, increased law enforcement, lost tourism dollars, and other costs to our communities."

Scutari’s legislation permits possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solids, 72 ounces in liquid form, seven grams of concentrate and up to six immature plants.

As a candidate for Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, who was sworn in this past January, was quite vocal about his stance on legalizing marijuana during his campaign, citing social justice as a top concern. In his recent budget address, Murphy reiterated his commitment to seeing cannabis reform legislation passed in 2018.

"Decriminalization alone will not put the corner dealer out of business. It will not help protect our kids and it will not end the racial disparities (in marijuana arrests) we see," Murphy said.

How Many Dispensaries Are Too Many?

Gusciora's new bill calls for as many as 400 marijuana merchants in the state. It would include a maximum of ten and a minimum of two dispensaries in each of New Jersey's 40 legislative districts.

According to App, at the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium in January, industry experts said a revised version of the originally introduced Senate bill would likely limit the number of dispensary licenses statewide to 80. “The number was met with groans by weed entrepreneurs looking for more business opportunities,” says App contributor, Mike Davis, who noted that it is very likely that the cap on dispensaries will fall somewhere in the middle of the two bills.

About the idea of the state allowing 400 dispensary licenses, cannabis consultant Brian Staffa, although excited by the prospect asked, "Where are we going to put them all?"

While the Senate bill does not specify the number of licenses available for growers, distributors, or retailers, Gusciora's bill calls for issuing up to 15 cultivation licenses in the first two years. These would be divided evenly among northern, central and southern New Jersey. An additional ten licenses would become available in year three for a total of 25 cultivation licenses.

Also under Gusciora's bill, New Jersey residents would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. However, local municipalities will have the option to prohibit growing at home. Scutari's bill has no allowance for home growing, the reasoning being that it opens up the door for home growers to sell their products illegally on the black market.

Rising Taxes

The bill proposed by Scutari last year specifies a gradually increasing tax. The rate would start at seven percent for the first year and then go up each year until it reaches 25 percent after five years. Gusciora's bill, on the other hand, although it also starts at seven percent, goes up to ten percent after two years, and then caps at 15 percent in the fifth year.

Both bills also specify what portion of tax revenues are earmarked for municipalities. During the first two years a marijuana business is in operation, one percent of tax revenue will go back to the local municipality, increasing to two percent after two years, and three percent after four years. Under Scutari's bill, towns do not begin receiving tax revenue until the third year at a rate of three percent.

Most experts expect that for any cannabis legalization legislation bill to garner enough support to be signed into law, it will most likely have to provide for some compromises between the two bills.

Recently, when asked about his thoughts on how the Trump Administration’s stance on marijuana might affect the state’s efforts to legalize, Governor Murphy says, "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention.” He added, “We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death. And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

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