Pot Cafes Could Soon Be Legal in New Jersey

Ever since Democrat Phil Murphy was elected to fill Chris Christie’s seat as Governor of New Jersey, it’s seemed like pot legalization in the Garden State is inevitable. During his inauguration speech in January, Murphy declared that a “stronger and fairer New Jersey … includes a process to legalize marijuana.” Since then, New Jersey lawmakers have be going back and forth over new legislation — and according to NJ.com, the latest version of The New Jersey Marijuana Act (S-2703) just might have what it takes to pass the State Senate.

The New Jersey Marijuana Act was first introduced in June by State Senator Nicholas Scutari, but according to NJ.com, certain provisions have since been amended to address some of the concerns voiced by legislators and advocates. The bill was sent to Gov. Murphy last week and lawmakers are awaiting his feedback on this new version, which still includes a marijuana taxation rate of 10 percent. That’s not only significantly less than the 25 percent Murphy had recommended, but would also be the lowest in the country. Currently, Massachusetts has the lowest taxes for marijuana at 10.75 percent.

On one hand, according to Politico, Murphy was unhappy to see such a low tax rate in the last version of the bill; other the other, earlier this week, Murphy commented that his administration has “not hardened a position on taxes.”

“We typically don’t talk about legislation while they’re getting baked,” Murphy said, making perhaps an unintentional quip. “We’re not ruling anything out. We want to get it right.”

Beyond the low tax rate, the bill reportedly offers the state some other cannabis perks. While the amended bill has not yet been introduced and made public, NJ.com obtained a copy and broke down some of the key elements. On a basic level, S-2703 legalizes possession, personal use, transport and transfer of small amounts of marijuana for persons age 21 and over. Their definition of “small” is pretty standard: One ounce or less of marijuana; 16 ounces or less of marijuana infused product in solid form; 72 ounces or less in liquid form; 7 grams or less of marijuana concentrate and up to six immature marijuana plants.” The bill does not legalize home-growing, however.

The Marijuana Act also contains provisions that would legalize and regulate weed delivery and public consumption spaces. Like California, Nevada and Oregon, licensed dispensaries could seek permission from the state to deliver cannabis products to their customers, one of the upsides of the current black market that legalization legislation hasn’t always addressed. Likewise, public consumption remains illegal in every state that has legalized so far, a provision which predominantly impacts people who live in public housing, where smoking is banned, and people of color, who are more likely to be targeted by police for marijuana violations. If S-2703 is passed, New Jersey would be one of the few states to mitigate the restriction by allowing licensed marijuana dispensaries to apply for permission to open a separate social consumption space on the same premises. Social consumption spaces, like bars, are designated and sanctioned explicitly for legal public use.

One of the key updates to this version of the bill, according to NJ.com, is there is no longer a cap on the number of businesses that could participate in the state’s legal weed industry. Deciding which businesses should get a license will be left up to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a a five-person committee “appointed by the governor, three with Senate consent, one with the consent of the Senate president and one with consent from the Assembly speaker,” according to NJ.com. While the bill provides the framework for the state’s legal marijuana industry, the Commission would be tasked with setting more specific parameters, as well as oversight.

A remaining flaw in the bill, according to NJ.com, is the lack of specific language about how the state would go about expunging previous low-level marijuana charges. Assemblyman Jamel Holley is apparently drafting that language, which will reportedly be added to the final version of the bill.

Once any changes Murphy may request have been implemented, the bill will be reintroduced to the State Senate, which will then hold several hearings before, hopefully, voting on the bill. If it passes — which could happen as early as October — the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will have 180 days to adopt rules and regulations. Then, they’ll have another 30 days to begin accepting applications for licenses, 30 days to approve or deny those applications and, lastly, 30 days to issue licenses to those they’ve approved. Licensed marijuana cultivators will likely to take a little while to get up and running, but so long as there are not any hiccups, New Jersey could have an up-and-running pot market before next Labor Day.

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