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As tortured as the path to legalization has been, now the hard part really begins.
Come Jan. 1, the new laws go into effect with a host of unresolved issues. Those issues will be left for a newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), as well as the state attorney general. At the heart of these future policy decisions is how to create a $1 billion industry that will overtake the current illicit market and create tax revenue that will be used to help the minority communities (impact zones) hardest hit by disparate treatment by law enforcement in the so-called war on drugs.
Members of the New Jersey state Assembly and Senate have given final approval to legislation permitting the possession of marijuana by adults and regulating its commercial production and retail sales. Each of the measures now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The Assembly approved A21 by a 49 to 24 vote with six abstentions, and the Senate later approved S21 by a 23 to 17 vote.
As a New York-based cannabis entrepreneur, I celebrated as New Jersey's vote to legalize adult use cannabis passed by large margins last month. Unfortunately, that joy quickly soured: Legislators put forth a plan – A-21/S-21 – that lacked key social equity provisions won in other states, including allocating funds to help communities harmed by the War on Drugs and clear opportunities for minority communities to participate in the industry.
The bill commits 70% of the 6.625% sales tax on marijuana products and all money raised from a new excise tax to communities that are disproportionately affected by arrests on marijuana charges.
Lawmakers have reached a deal on a bill that will launch a legal marijuana industry in New Jersey, clearing a path for the bill to pass later this month.
“There is a deal,” Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill (S21) said Friday evening. “It’s been a long road and I’ll be happy when it’s done.”
The compromise puts one limit on licenses back into the legislation: The state can only give out 37 licenses for marijuana growers during the first two years of legalization.
Here are some of the key differences between the measures passed Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget Committee, according to the Associated Press:
Here are some of the major changes approved by lawmakers and differences that will need to be resolved:
Social justice, tax money, and other issues
Racial justice advocates objected to the bill’s allocation of only 15% of cannabis business licenses to minority applicants. They also opposed Scutari’s plan for the cannabis tax revenue, which would fund local police departments instead of supporting low-income neighborhoods disproportionately targeted and harmed by the War on Drugs.
The enabling bill, NJ S21 (20R) / NJ A21 (20R), which broadly resembles a failed cannabis legalization measure considered by lawmakers last year, is a 200-page-plus behemoth containing intricate criminal justice reforms, licensing provisions and economic recovery measures.
Lawmakers pulled the bill from a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting last week to resolve outstanding disagreements.