The governor’s office and the state Legislature’s top Democrats have finally reached a deal on a bill to legalize, tax and regulate adult-use marijuana, according to a Tuesday announcement – paving the way for a vote by the end of the month.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said he wants the vote done in both the Assembly and Senate by the end of March; the last full voting sessions are scheduled for March 25.
Several lawmakers are still on the fence about whether they would support the marijuana bill, and Sweeney said most of them would not make a commitment to support the legislation until they have seen the final text.
It would be up to Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, to whip up those votes, but Sweeney has reiterated that Murphy needs to be involved in that process.
“The plan is a committee vote on the [March 18] and full vote on [March 25], I can’t speak for the Senate, but if we post it for a vote on [March 25] it will pass,” said Liza Acevedo, a spokesperson for Coughlin.
“We are working together in both chambers, so [Sweeney], [Coughlin], myself and others, we’re all working in this together,” Murphy said at an unrelated press event in Jersey City Tuesday morning. “Frankly they know their numbers better than I do, but I am all in to help them get this over the goal line.”
New Jersey could be the second state, after Vermont, to legalize marijuana fully by legislation instead of a voter ballot question.
Full text of the legislation will be released in the “coming days,” according to a joint announcement Tuesday morning from the offices of Gov. Phil Murphy, the Senate Democrats and Assembly Democrats.
As was agreed upon, marijuana would be taxed at $42 an ounce while the industry would be governed by a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will handle regulations and licensing.
Murphy’s 2020 budget, which starts July 1, calls for $60 million in legal cannabis revenue, assuming it is legalized this January.
With first-time start-up costs projected at $21 million, that would mean $39 million of net tax revenue for the state. In the years following the state would have to spend $12 million annually on regulation and enforcement.
The governor on Tuesday morning reiterated that buying marijuana legally in the state will not be likely until January 2020.
Murphy will initially be able to pick three of the members of the Commission without requiring approval of the Senate, though at some point after their four-year terms are up they would require the Senate approval. Sweeney and Coughlin will pick one member each.
“It will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market so that it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been since the end of Prohibition. This plan will also advance important social justice reforms to help reverse the discriminatory impact that drug laws have had on diverse communities,” Sweeney said in a statement Tuesday.
Murphy and Sweeney both envision the tax per ounce for medical marijuana to drop once adult-use cannabis is legalized, with Sweeney saying he wants that amount to eventually reach $0.
Municipalities with a cultivator or manufacturer within their borders will receive revenue from a two percent tax on the product. Towns with a wholesaler will receive revenue from a one percent tax on the product, and municipalities with a retailer will receive revenue from a three percent tax on the product.
The bill, according to the joint announcement, will “establish an expedited expungement process for individuals convicted of low-level marijuana offenses, and a virtual expungement process that will automatically prevent certain marijuana offenses from being taken into account in certain areas such as education, housing, and occupational licensing.”
Murphy said that would benefit many state residents who have “low-level” drug possession or distribution charges on their criminal records. “There are two elements to the expungement,” Murphy said. “The affirmative expungement, which the individual needs to take action on, and the exact locus of where that will happen and how that’s done – online, physical, in person – will be determined.”
“In the absence of that a virtual expungement, meaning until that person takes that action, that crime cannot impair their ability – just as race, gender, religion – cannot impair your ability to get a job, to get an education, to get a license,” Murphy said.
As was agreed upon in the initial legislation, Senate Bill 2703, a certain amount of licenses will be set aside for women-and-minority-owned businesses, low-and-middle-income individuals and disadvantaged, poorer communities.
“It is time.. to bring New Jersey in line with other states that have moved ahead with legalization and realized the numerous benefits it brings,” New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder said in a statement Tuesday.
“We knew that legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis and expanding medical cannabis in New Jersey will address issues of social justice, help the state’s economy, and create a new, thriving workforce,” Rudder added.