Even though New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question this week to legalize, tax and regulate adult-use cannabis, they might have to wait up to a year before they can actually go out and buy it at a nearby store.
“Could it take up to a year? I think it could,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press briefing Thursday in Trenton.
Lawmakers still have to vote on a bill to formally legalize cannabis, outlining how the market will be regulated and tested, how many permits and licenses will be given out, the types that will be distributed, and who will get them.
It remains illegal until then, under state law.
Attorney General Gubir Grewal announced Wednesday, that in light of the results of the ballot question, law enforcement and prosecutors should still use discretion when considering low-level cannabis offenses.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature to swiftly pass enabling legislation that will set up a regulatory framework for adult-use marijuana,” the governor said.
One of the state Legislature’s biggest proponents of legalization – Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District – said he expects to introduce a bill between Thursday and Monday to legalize, regulate and tax adult-use cannabis for recreational use. Scutari could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Under the ballot question, the state will legalize cannabis as of Jan. 1, 2021. Marijuana transactions will be subject to the 6.625% sales tax, while municipalities can impose an additional 2% tax for their local coffers. Some of the rules for the new industry would be laid out by the state Legislature, and others by a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission that will oversee the market—and so far only has one appointee.
Murphy said that in the short-term, the state’s nine medical marijuana dispensaries could expand their operations to provide products to the recreational market, but they would “have to prove that they are not eating into their supply for their medical purposes.
“That could theoretically happen sooner,” he said.
The bill that lawmakers and the Murphy administration worked on over 2018 and 2019, and were ultimately unable to pass, totaled close to 200 pages, and found both sides publicly clashing over how to tax and regulate the industry.
Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, – despite their support for legalization – ultimately never came to an agreement, except to put it before voters.
“Having those 14 months of legwork to resolve a lot of the issues helped a lot,” said one senior administration official, who noted that the negotiations were still ongoing.
New legislation would largely mirror what passed through the halls of Trenton during those two years.
Two sticking points are the excise tax and the potential cap on new licenses, but they’re less “disagreements” and more so “just the two issues we’re working through,” according to this source. Other issues were resolved by the medical marijuana expansion bill that Murphy signed in July 2019.
“We need to ramp up production, we need to get more licenses … cultivators and dispensaries online as soon as possible. But that all is going to take time,” Scutari said on Tuesday.
The supply chain has been a particular problem, both among existing dispensaries, with the future held up in court for many of the medical alternative treatment centers.
“They still have a lot of work to do,” Jeff Brown, who heads the state’s medical marijuana program within the New Jersey Department of Health, said during a late October event with NJ Cannabusiness Insider.
By a most recent count, the state’s medical-marijuana program has almost 95,000 participants, Brown said, serviced by its nine alternative treatment centers.