A new proposal would let voters decide through a ballot whether to legalize adult-use marijuana in New Jersey, NJBIZ has learned, but Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said the measure is essentially a non-starter, and the governor’s office also said legislation is the best way forward.
Under Assembly Bill 5138, backed by Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-39th District, and Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, voters would be able to decide via ballot question whether to legalize adult-use marijuana for anyone over 21.
“It would be a ballot question, as it has been in every other state which made the determination. It would allow voters to be educated on the issue, allow voters to understand the real pros and cons instead of what’s just being [packaged] to them,” Schepisi said Thursday at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Walk to Washington event in Washington D.C.
“We’re working through a piece of legislation,” Coughlin told NJBIZ. “We’re looking to do it legislatively.”
Matthew Saidel, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said legalizing cannabis would be best done through legislation.
“While the governor’s office does not comment on pending legislation, Gov. Murphy believes that legalizing adult-use marijuana should occur through the legislative process,” Saidel said in a statement. “He looks forward to continuing the productive discussions with the Legislature and building on the recent progress they have made together.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, has also come out in opposition to a ballot referendum, saying the law would be harder to change once it’s implemented than if it were passed through legislation and signed by Murphy.
Rice, a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana, also said a referendum will help voters better understand the implications of adult-use cannabis.
“There should be a referendum if there’s going to be continuing conversation on this stuff,” Rice said.
Schepisi said she had “no idea at the moment” about the going taxation rate for marijuana.
The plan favored by Sweeney, Coughlin and Murphy would tax marijuana at $42 an ounce. Sweeney previously wanted a 12 percent rate, while Murphy had wanted a rate closer to 25 percent.
The three Democrats also agreed that a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission would oversee the marijuana industry, wherein Murphy would be able to pick three seats without requiring Senate approval.
All three will have to undertake lobbying efforts to get lawmakers on board with the legal marijuana bill.