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Cannabis Legalization Gains Ground In New Jersey

November 28, 2018

After months of delay, New Jersey’s state legislature took its first real steps this week to push forward a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis use in the state. On Monday, bipartisan budget committees from both the state Senate and Assembly cleared the motion, which would allow for the possession and personal use of recreational marijuana in New Jersey and create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate the product’s licensing and sale.

A pair of Democratic New Jersey senators first introduced legalized cannabis legislation in June 2018 and initially expected it to be signed into law this fall by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. However, the process has taken much longer than expected. Lawmakers continue to argue over particulars in the bill—specifically the proposed tax rate and the legal issues involved for people who are currently serving jail time or who have marijuana arrest convictions on their record.

As written now, New Jersey’s bill calls for a 12% tax on commercial cannabis, which is among the lowest in the country. Ten states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis currently, and most of their tax rates are closer to 15%. Governor Murphy has said publicly that he wants a much higher tax rate—upwards of 25%—and that he may not support a bill with a rate so low.

New Jersey’s state legislature is only scheduled to be in session for one more day this calendar year, on December 17. If the bill isn’t ready for a full vote by then, it will be held over until 2019. New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney, who supports the bill, has said that it will need Murphy’s approval before going up for a full vote by the legislature. If it ultimately passes, New Jersey would be one of the only states in the country to pass recreational cannabis laws by state legislature rather than by a ballot referendum.

With Massachusetts opening its first cannabis retail shops last week and New Jersey taking firm steps toward legalization, pressure could rise on neighboring New York state to move more quickly toward recreational cannabis.—Laura Pelner

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