Looks like there may be an entirely new meaning to New Jersey’s nickname as “The Garden State.” Lawmakers voted Monday to advance bills that would legalize marijuana in the state and expunge prior convictions related to marijuana.
The New Jersey Assembly Appropriations Committee and the state Senate Judiciary Committee both voted on their own versions of bills that provide for legalization of cannabis in the state.
There was a last minute amendment to the Appropriations Committee bill that gave broader expungement provisions and a revised tax structure for the legalized cannabis system. The committee voted 6-1 with two abstentions to pass the bill.
The Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to approve its own bill with one abstention.
If passed into law, adults age 21 or over would be able to purchase, possess and consume cannabis for adult use. Marijuana delivery and social consumption sites would be allowed, but home cultivation would not.
A five-member commission would be appointed and made responsible for studying the effects of legalization and ensuring social equity in the marijuana industry, as well as approving licenses for cannabis cultivators, processors, wholesalers and retailers.
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D), who sponsored the legislation, said at the hearing “When I think of [the bill], I think of two words: opportunity and hope. There have been far too many people, especially those from black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. It is time we listen to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and take a common-sense approach to regulation of cannabis. This bill is a huge first step.”
Gov. Phil Murphy included projected legalization tax revenue of $60 million for fiscal year 2020 in his budget proposal earlier this month. Murphy has been vocally supportive of legalization and even worked the phone banks to rally support for legalization.
“There’s no question it’s going to take a village on this one,” he said. “I am all in on this. We have to get this done.”
“We’re going to have to put everything into this. There is only one state in America that has done this legislatively. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of this. We’re not only expunging and undoing a whole lot of social injustices but creating a new industry. This is not an easy lift.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) was one of several New Jersey mayors to demand that the legislation include provisions to expunge the records of people with previous cannabis convictions as a condition of their municipality being able to offer marijuana businesses.
“If we are going to legalize marijuana in the state of New Jersey, then we should remedy all of the folks who have been victimized by a war on drugs,” Baraka said. “We believe that the onus should not be put on the individual but in fact should be put on the state itself.”
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release: “Today’s votes are an important step toward legalizing adult-use marijuana in New Jersey. Although this bill is not perfect, we greatly appreciate the changes that the sponsors of the legislation have made based on the recommendations of advocates. While we are encouraged by the inclusion of provisions that our coalition has advocated for—such as expanded expungement – to better address fairness and equity, we are disappointed that there is no provision that allocates tax revenue generated by marijuana sales back to the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.”