Cannabis industry insiders and local officials from municipalities where those businesses might operate, are feeling a sense of unease over how New Jersey’s marijuana market will fare after lawmakers pulled the plug on efforts to legalize recreational cannabis via legislation.
Many who spoke Wednesday morning at a cannabis panel at the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City were highly critical of the Monday decision to put the question of adult-use legalization before voters during the 2020 presidential election.
“Whenever the Legislature can’t do anything, they just punt it to the voters,” Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said Wednesday.
Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr – also president of the NJLM – said that the bill handled many aspects simply not addressed in the resolution such as how police departments will handle marijuana, the level of control granted to local municipalities and the tax rate they can levy.
The resolution would ask voters whether the state should legalize marijuana for personal use by anyone over 21, and be regulated by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which is already tasked with overseeing the state’s growing medical marijuana program.
The bill would eliminate the proposed $42 an ounce flat tax that legislative leadership and Gov. Phil Murphy initially agreed on, which Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-3rd District, thought was too high in the first place.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, and Sweeney announced late on Nov. 18 they would scrap efforts to pass the legalization bill during lame duck, replacing it with a two-page constitutional amendment that will go before voters in 2020.
Sweeney said the move was prompted in part by the Nov. 15 announcement of Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, that voters should decide on legalization, and that he did not support lame duck efforts to approve a measure in the Legislature.
“I didn’t have the votes, Declan was one of my votes,” Sweeney told reporters at the league. “Scutari did a press conference that morning and after he did the press conference, we started counting… I can’t get to 21 [votes], there’s not a path to 21 votes.”
To show up on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, both houses would need to pass the measure by a super-majority by the summer, or they would need to pass it twice in both houses by a simple majority for two years in a row.
That latter option means lawmakers have until Dec. 31 to pass the measure by a simple majority. Murphy said Monday that he was “disappointed” by the development.
The Legislature would still have to pass a bill laying out those guidelines, and could likely include many provisions in the original bill.
“The specific details on the tax rate… are there going to be caps on the number of growers, are there going to be limits on who can apply, and on what are going to be the rules of the program, that will be let out by the commission,” Archer Public Affairs Managing Director Bill Caruso told NJBIZ.
Fruqan Mouzon, who was counsel for Senate Majority Office/Senate Democrats when the legislation was crafted, called the bill a 180-page “monstrosity” — and said constant additions led to its downfall.
“There were parts of it, that if you took it out you lost votes if you put it in you lost votes,” he said Wednesday.
To address social justice issues, the bill set aside a certain amount of licenses for women, veterans and people of color, as well as licenses that go to longtime residents.
But Sweeney assured that the statutory authority is spelled out in the resolution, and the CRC will have the authority to answer such questions.
“I think we’ve made a lot of headway on the bill,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, told NJBIZ, adding that the new bill “will largely resemble the bill that we have crafted before.”
The CRC has six months from Gov. Phil Murphy’s July signature of the medical marijuana expansion bill to put together the commission together, according to Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner of the state’s medical marijuana program. But, that timeline is largely dependent on when the state Senate approves the nominees for the five members.