New Jersey voters overwhelmingly voted to approve a measure that widely opens the lucrative cannabis industry in the state, setting up potentially heated talks in Trenton on how to move forward with regulating and taxing the market.
The Associated Press called the race on a ballot question legalizing recreational cannabis for use by anyone ages 21 and over in New Jersey just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday. It is legal effective on Jan. 1, 2021.
With the ballot’s passage – at 67% for to 32% against, numbers that are largely in line with what public polls showed leading up to the vote – the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy will once again undertake negotiations that scuttled legalization efforts for the past three years.
Eleven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized adult-use marijuana, while more than 30 states, including New Jersey, have a medical program.
“Legalization is the result of years of hard work from a diverse group of individuals and communities,” New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder said in a Tuesday evening statement. “Sen. Nick Scutari’s idea that used to generate snickers in the halls of Trenton when he first talked about it has finally become a reality.”
Under the ballot question, 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.
Cannabis transactions will be subject to the 6.625% sales tax, while municipalities can impose an additional 2% tax for their local coffers.
Lawmakers now have to vote over how the market will be regulated and tested, how many permits and licenses will be given out, the types to be distributed, and who will get them.
“We’re working very well with legislative leadership,” Murphy said during a Tuesday afternoon appearance on WCBS. Steps like the formal creation of the CRC “we can take pretty quickly,” the governor added.
But, the bill that lawmakers and the Murphy administration worked off totaled close to 200 pages, and both sides previously publicly clashed 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.
During his 2017 campaign, Murphy pledged to legalize marijuana within his first 100 days of office. But lawmakers failed to corral the votes to pass a bill out of both houses.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, who’s been one of the main legislative proponents of legalization said he plans to introduce legislation between Thursday and Monday.
Many of the provisions in previous versions of the legislation would likely be included in this coming proposal.
“Now the people have spoken,” he said in a Tuesday phone interview. “We will be under intense pressure” to procure “a regulated market.”
“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 added.
Demand and decriminalization
The supply chain has been a particular problem, both among the existing dispensaries, and with the future held up in court for many medicinal cannabis dispensaries.
“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 nine alternative treatment centers.
According to Scutari, the legalization measure will accompany a decriminalization proposal.
“New Jersey voters have mandated an end to cannabis prohibition, and they have voiced their support for building an equitable, just market in place of unfair and outdated drug laws,” reads a Tuesday statement from NJ CAN 2020, the pro-legalization group that raised more than $851,000 during the campaign. “Our legislators must immediately enact legislation, with a central focus on social justice and racial equity, to deliver the economic benefits and improved public safety to follow from the new law.”