Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin that they had reached a deal to send this new bill back to the Legislature, with plans to hold a vote on March 25. The bill is considered the culmination of more than a year of debate and negotiation, and it represents New Jersey's best chance so far to legalize marijuana through the Legislature. Murphy thinks retail sales could begin as early as next winter, while Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats, said the votes for legalization would be there on March 25.
Now that the bill is out, lawmakers who have been on the fence will have to make up their minds. If lawmakers pass the legal weed bill, it will allow the possession and personal use of up to an ounce of marijuana for people in New Jersey, along with setting up a taxable industry of weed growers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. People would only be allowed to smoke in private residences or sanctioned marijuana consumption lounges, according to the bill.
The governor and legislative leaders would choose the people who would serve on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which would be tasked with making the more exceptional rules of the industry as well as oversight. The regulatory commission would accept applications and issue licenses for marijuana businesses, but municipalities would be able to ban such businesses, as more than 60 towns have already done. The bill allows people with low-level marijuana convictions to wipe away their records since their crimes would no longer be illegal. It also requires the commission to issue a portion of marijuana business licenses to women- and minority-owned businesses.
Once the industry gets up and running, which would be about a year after the bill passes, there would be pot shops all across the state. The bill doesn’t set a limit on the number of marijuana businesses that could be licensed; it only says that the number of businesses should meet demand. Towns in the state are free to ban pot shops and growers, but residents in those towns would still be able to buy weed elsewhere and bring it back in town for their private consumption.
In this version of the bill, lawmakers overhauled the taxation of marijuana.
Rather than an additional sales tax imposed at the cash register, officials revealed that they would be charging a $42 tax on each ounce of marijuana grown in the state. The tax would be imposed on growers but would be passed down to consumers. Municipalities would also be able to claim some of the revenue, according to the statement from lawmakers. Towns that have pot shops would be able to impose a 3 percent tax on items sold, while towns that have growers could charge a 2 percent tax and towns with wholesalers could charge a 1 percent tax. Towns that ban businesses would not get any tax revenue from marijuana. The bill allows marijuana retailers to deliver to consumers, as long as they have a certified employee making the deliveries. The process would be heavily regulated, and every dispensary may not deliver. Pot shops would also be allowed to have space onsite for consumers to use their products, as long as they get state and local approval. New Jersey would be one of the first states to allow consumption lounges. But you can't grow weed at home. It's been clear for a long time now, but legalization in New Jersey will not include allowing people to grow their plants at home. Lawmakers have long been opposed to home-grown, worried that it would add to the black market and be hard to regulate. Proponents often compare growing marijuana to the favorite hobby of home-brewing beer, but it won't be allowed should the bill pass, at least not at first.
One of the most contentious parts of the bill — and one that had several lawmakers questioning whether they could support legalization — is the expungement language. If possession and use of marijuana become legal, what do you do with the hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey who have low-level marijuana convictions? The overwhelming answer from lawmakers has been to let people erase them from their records.
Murphy made expungements and social justice the main planks of his legalization platform, and the bill allows people with low-level marijuana convictions to apply for easier expungements. It also requires the state Judiciary to establish an electronic system to help with future expungements. These are some of the provisions undecided lawmakers have been pushing for, but it's not clear this will be enough to guarantee the passage of legalization.