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New Jersey Is Very Close to Finalizing a Recreational Cannabis Legalization Bill

Garden State lawmakers say they only need to make a “few minor tweaks” before the adult-use marijuana bill is presented to Governor Phil Murphy and introduced in the state legislature.

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Legal weed is coming to New Jersey, and if all goes as planned, it will be delivered right to your door. After eight months of debate, Garden State legislators say that they are close to finalizing two bills, one to reorganize the state’s medical marijuana program, and another to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older.

According to NJ.com, a group of state lawmakers has been working for the past few weeks to craft the comprehensive legalization bills, and are now only a “few minor tweaks” away from introducing the initiatives to the full legislature. The cannabis-focused working group hopes to convene a final state house vote and end prohibition by the end of September.

Since he took office in January, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has made cannabis reform a primary focus, already expanding the state’s medical market and pushing at every turn for legislative action on total legalization.

Lead by Democratic Senator Nicholas Scutari, the legislative group now crafting New Jersey’s legalization bill has already agreed on a number of industry specifics, including statewide delivery for both recreational and medical customers, and an open-ended licensing structure, in which appointed marijuana-specific regulators will decide how many dispensaries to permit, without a state-imposed cap. A previous New Jersey legalization bill had called for a 120 storefront limit, but Scutari said that it would be unnecessary and detrimental if there were industry-specific regulators in place.

“Market forces will decide, but we want it to make sure [the market] runs effectively and there is an adequate product available,” Scutari said. “I learned my lesson with the medicinal marijuana program, when the [Christie] administration was not on board. We saw a slow-moving program.”

Outside of retail protocol specifications, legislators have voiced support for a social equity program that would allocate 25% of licenses to women, minorities, and veterans. It is still not clear if the final bill will include the 25% mark as a strict requirement, or an eventual goal. 

In other efforts to bring local residents into the industry and reconcile prohibition’s sordid past, the bill is expected to set aside 10% of all canna-business permits to small-scale “micro” operators, and feature an accompanying piece of legislation to automatically expunge all previously-charged misdemeanor marijuana crimes.

As for what’s left, legislators have not yet cemented a final tax rate or confirmed where the tax revenue from legal sales will be funnelled, although NJ.com noted that the excise discussion is currently in the works, and will most likely fall somewhere in the 15-25% range.

“There’s clean-up language that we’re doing now,” Senator Joe Vitale told NJ.com. “And we’ll probably have one more quick conference call.”

Once those final tweaks are made, legislators expect to bring both the recreational and medicinal marijuana bills to a final vote sometime in September, at which point Governor Murphy will presumably sign the bill into law with haste.

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