New Jersey one step closer to legalizing cannabis as bill passes committee

Just when it appeared that progress was slowing to a crawl again in New Jersey, some surprising news has come out of the Garden State. On Friday it was announced that the legislature would be meeting on Monday morning to discuss proposed legislation which would legalize marijuana for all adults in the state. After the hearing, committees in both the Senate and Assembly approved a bill. The bill will now be up for a full vote by the state legislature after which Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign the bill into law.

After months of closed-door negotiations, both the Senate and Assembly enjoined a hearing Monday to discuss the bluntly named Marijuana Legalization Act. The bill not only creates a legal cannabis market but also provides for expungement of low-level marijuana convictions and arrest records.

Sen. Nick Scutari, who sponsored and has championed NJ marijuana legalization:

— Mike Davis (@byMikeDavis) November 26, 2018


Around 200 people packed into the hearing room for a nearly four-hour debate.

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The bill cleared the Senate budget committee by a vote of 7-4 with two abstentions. The Assembly budget panel voted 7-2, with one abstention.

"This process has been a long one. I started talking about this 15 years ago," State Sen. Nicholas Scutari told

More grooming is possible before the bill is put up for a vote which may push the action into 2019 as there is only one day remaining in the year on which a vote could take place which is December 17.

If passed, the Marijuana Legalization Act would allow adults 21 years of age or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It would also create a regulated and taxed market.

“We stand on the verge of a major change in New Jersey,” said Assembly Appropriations Chair John Burzichelli on setting guidelines for adult cannabis use. “It has been a long road, but we are on the verge of something very significant.”

— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) November 26, 2018


The main points of tension during the hearing were social justice and taxes. Democratic Senator Ron Rice, who has long been opposed to legalization argued against the bill.

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"This is still being sold under the auspices of social justice, but it's about money,” reporters quoted him as saying in the meeting. “It's not about social justice. It's about money for white investors. It's a slap in the face to people like me and people of color."

According to reports, Assemblyman Joe Danielsen replied by asking: "Do you have a solution that's better than our current legislation?"

Within six months of being signed by the governor, the Administrative Office of the Courts will be required to create an electronic filing system for expediting expungements.

A plea from @jamelholley to vote yes on the legalization and regulation of marijuana: “Provide relief for those individuals who look like me who didn’t have a chance in the past because of a drug that was called illegal”

— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) November 26, 2018


Health and safety concerns were also points of contention with some claiming that legalization would make New Jersey roads more dangerous.

[Mass. Rep. Joe Kennedy III comes around on cannabis legalization in stirring op-ed]

Murphy declined to say whether he'd support the bill as it is currently written. His biggest concern seemed to be taxes, as he is asking for a 25 percent tax rate while the new bill calls for a mere 12 percent tax.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that the Legislature would be running the bill by Murphy for his approval before bringing it up for a full floor vote.

Stay tuned for more on this story as it unfolds.

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