Legalization is Underway in N.J.: Phil Murphy’s Swearing-in, Bill Update

by | Jan 16, 2018

Phil Murphy’s inauguration is something to celebrate for cannabis advocates in the Garden State.

In his inauguration speech on Jan. 16, Murphy addressed New Jersey’s widely-anticipated – and widely-expected – cannabis legalization efforts, noting that comprehensive justice reform “includes a process to legalize marijuana” for “a stronger and fairer New Jersey.”

Actions to achieve said “stronger and fairer New Jersey” are already underway in Trenton, with the re-introduction of recreational adult-use legislation in the state Senate from Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D). Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) is likely to follow up Scutari’s move with the introduction of his own bill in the state Assembly expected by Feb. 1.

As CannaContent reported last year, a legalization effort has always been a possibility within Murphy’s first 100 days in office. While ambitious, the introduction of Scutari’s bill signals that Trenton’s legal cannabis debate remains at the top of the agenda.

What’s in the bills?

Currently, Scutari’s bill is quite similar to the version introduced in 2017. Under the proposed legislation, residents would be allowed to possess and use up to one ounce of dry cannabis flower, 16 ounces of edibles infused with cannabis, 72 ounces of liquid cannabis, and seven grams of concentrate. Possession of up to 50 grams would be decriminalized as well, and the criminal records of those arrested for possession of cannabis would be expunged.

“We’ve got to get this bill ready for signature,” Scutari said last year when he introduced his legislation. “We should be prepared to move ahead with this program and end the prohibition on marijuana that treats our citizens so unfairly.”

Moreover, the bill contains provisions to establish the Division of Marijuana Enforcement in the state Attorney General’s office, an agency that would be responsible for the licensing of cannabis cultivators and retailers. It also imposes a sales tax on tangible cannabis products starting at seven percent which would gradually climb to 25 percent over a five-year period.

What Scutari’s bill doesn’t contain is a home grow provision, which would allow residents to privately grow a small number of cannabis plants in their homes. This component is present in every other state with legal recreational cannabis; Scutari has said he would consider supporting such a measure later. Gusciora’s bill is expected to include a home grow provision, an important item for those who wish to grow medicine at home.

Yet another bill introduced by Assemblyman Patrick Carroll (R) goes a bit further. His version, introduced in the Assembly, calls for responsible cannabis education incorporated into the school curricula and limits the tax increase proposed in other bills.

It’s important to note that nothing is set in stone right now and there are still many advocates working hard for changes. Bills would have to be reconciled before a final vote is held.

A mixed reception from NJ’s municipalities

As Trenton prepares to move forward with its legalization effort, New Jersey towns have offered mixed responses. Some towns, such as Asbury Park, have lauded the move and expressed their full support for legal cannabis in their towns if the state law is revised.

“I have no problem with medical or recreational marijuana, as long as it’s legally dispensed and taxed,” Mayor John Moor told the Asbury Park Press. Councilman Jesse Kendle, Councilwoman Eileen Chapman and Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn told the press they agree with the Asbury Park mayor.

Then there are cities such as Jersey City, who are approaching legalization positively, but with caution. Mayor Steven Fulop has said he supports legal cannabis but prefers a zoning process that takes into account residential input before openly allowing cannabis sales in the city.

“I think that there’s certainly pros and cons,” Fulop told NJTV News, “and we’ve heard both sides of it and we’re trying to learn what works in other states and it’s very early in the conversation still and we wouldn’t want to do something that has an adverse impact on urban areas like the one I’m responsible for.”

Some cities, like Point Pleasant Beach, have already made moves to limit or prohibit recreational cannabis sales in their towns.

“The cities that have come out for it, that’s good. That’s a nice fit for them. For us, it’s not,” Point Pleasant Mayor Stephen Reid told News 12 New Jersey after his town voted to not allow dispensaries to open in Point Pleasant.

New Jersey is home to 565 different municipalities, each with its own perspectives on legal cannabis. Each will have the opportunity to craft ordinances running the full spectrum from prohibition to zero additional regulation on top of state law. As the legalization efforts move forward in the state’s capital, it will be important to keep an eye on the Garden State’s towns – and fight decisions made in local municipalities made on inaccurate information, stereotypes and a lack of education.

How can you speak your mind?

At this stage, New Jerseyans who support cannabis legalization can, and should, express their support to their legislators, county officials, mayors and councilpersons. Residents can find their representatives in Trenton by searching on this website.

In addition, we recommend keeping up with the news to learn what’s going on in this ever-changing legalization process. Use Twitter to follow newspapers such as (@njdotcom) and The Record (@therecordnj), advocacy organizations such as New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (@NJU4MR) and Coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey (@CMM_NJ), and New Jersey cannabis businesses such as CannaContent who stay in the know.