NJ Marijuana Legalization Bill Is Delayed

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  • Phil Murphy
    American businessman and diplomat, 56th Governor of New Jersey
  • Matthew Friedman
    American film editor

NEW JERSEY — The process of legalizing marijuana has hit a roadblock now that the Murphy administration is objecting to legislation that creates the framework for selling the drug in the Garden State in 2021, sources told Patch.

Sources confirmed a Politico report that says the Murphy administration is objecting to the legal issues in the long-debated legislation, A-21, that officially legalizes personal use of marijuana, decriminalizes the substance and removes it from the Schedule I drug list.

Gov. Phil Murphy, speaking during a Monday news conference, said there are some "technical, but important things we're trying to wrinkle out" on the legislation.

Murphy said lawmakers have had good discussions with his administration and they're trying to "iron through those (differences) as efficiently as we can." Read more: WATCH: Gov. Murphy Issues NJ Coronavirus, Closures Update

Sources told Patch that the Murphy administration wants to make sure there are penalties for underaged, under-21 users. The legislation appears to not provide any kind of legal mechanism that would penalize underaged users.

The objection comes just weeks after the state New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted in favor of legislation that clears the way and creates a framework for marijuana legalization in 2021. The bill needs Gov. Phil Murphy's signature to become law.

Although New Jersey voters already, and overwhelmingly, approved marijuana legalization in the November election, state legislation was necessary to create a framework for recreational use of the drug once it's supposed to become legal on Jan. 1, 2021.

The specific regulatory process has not been finalized, and some state officials have said that it could take anywhere from 6 months to a year for the drug to be sold in stores. Any delay in legislation will likely delay the selling of the drug in New Jersey.

Matt Friedman, a reporter for Politico, spelled out Murphy's objections in a series of tweets:

Lawmakers and advocates say the bill would create a framework for legalization that benefits communities who have disproportionately been affected by drug arrests.

And under the new legislation, municipalities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities.

Assembly members voted 49-24-6 for the legislation, while the Senate voted 23-17 in favor Thursday.

Much of the earlier debate over the bill centered around two aspects: tax revenue and social justice. Often, those two things are connected.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Nicholas Scutari and Senator Teresa Ruiz say tax revenue from the drug will be dedicated to repairing heavily impacted communities.

Sweeney and Scutari say about 30 percent of the sales tax revenue from legal cannabis would fund the operations of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the state board charged with overseeing New Jersey's recreational and medical marijuana programs.

The remaining 70 percent of the sales tax revenue – and 100 percent of a "social equity excise fees" on cultivators – would aid "impact zones," the communities hurt most by drug laws, Scutari and Sweeney said.

"With legalization comes an unprecedented opportunity for residents to clean the slate with expungement provisions and for communities to grow their economic base with businesses,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union.

Other key details of the bill include:

  • A cap on the number of cannabis facilities at 37 for the first 24 months after enactment of the legislation

  • Municipalities can prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities, but those that choose to allow them could collect a 2 percent tax and retain the revenue.

  • There will be business incentives for minorities, women and disabled veterans to help them participate in the industry

Though the vote was a long time coming, there was still a spirited debate in the Senate, and not everyone came away happy.

"The Legislature should be ashamed of itself. By a 2-to-1 margin, New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize marijuana and this should have been an easy lift, but the Senate, Assembly and special interests have confounded something we all knew was inevitable for the past three years," said Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland.

Still, Senate Democrats and community activists happily announced what would be the New Jersey Legislature's biggest step toward marijuana legalization.

The Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, the founding director of Salvation and Social Justice, said it was a "historic day."

"This is just the first step in restoring justice for communities that have been most devastated by the War on Drugs across our state for decades. And while our work to repair the damage done by the drug war is far from over, today is a moment for celebration," he said.

Officials are confident that the state will see a boost in revenue from marijuana and the likely job creation that follows the industry.

"This legislation includes real, enterprising opportunities for New Jersey communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, along with more defined employment opportunities and a commission that requires diversity," said Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake.

"This will be a clear revenue generator for the State, and the social justice and diversity portion in the legislation remains imperative."

READ MORE: New Jersey's Revamped Legal Marijuana Bill Takes Leap Forward

On Dec. 4, Murphy, along with a collection of state legislators, announced an agreement on this legislature. Social justice was at the front of their minds.

The agreement was a long time coming after legislative exhaustive efforts failed last year to pass a legalization bill. The Senate fell about five votes short of approving legalization, forcing lawmakers to put it to a public referendum.

"We’re proud to announce today that we’ve reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system," they said at the time.

"This legislation will accomplish our shared goals of delivering restorative justice and ensuring that the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs see the economic benefits of the adult-use cannabis market. While there is still much work ahead, we are one step closer to building a new, promising industry for our state."

With reporting from Eric Kiefer and Montana Samuels.

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This article originally appeared on the Ridgewood-Glen Rock Patch

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