New Jersey lawmakers made their first move yesterday in a plan to fully legalize recreational cannabis in 2018. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday, legislators heard from cannabis advocates and detractors alike about a plan that could see cannabis legalized in the Garden State in as soon as six months.
According to NJ.com, Senate Bill 3195, introduced by Democratic Senator Nicholas Scutari, would create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office tasked with crafting regulations for a retail sales system. If passed, the bill would immediately decriminalize possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis and create a system for residents to expunge previous cannabis convictions.
Legalization has majority support from New Jersey residents, but lawmakers won’t rush into a vote. Instead, Scutari will wait at least six months, until the state’s Gubernatorial election is over and notorious cannabis opponent Chris Christie is out of office.
“Now is the time to begin shaping New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program," Scutari said. "We will have a new governor next year and we should be prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely."
Scutari has taken multiple trips to Colorado to learn about successful legal weed industry, and in addition to the immediate decriminalization, the bill would legalize possession of one ounce of flowers, seven grams of concentrates, one pound of infused edibles and 72 fluid ounces of infused liquid. The legislation would also give preference to New Jersey’s five existing medical dispensaries if the state is to transition to recreational sales.
While cannabis advocates across the state have largely praised Scutari’s bill, the legislation doesn’t allow for home grown cannabis, an omission receiving criticism from even the bill’s strongest supporters.
"I'm not saying I would be against something in the future," Scutari said. "I understand the frustration for people who say this is a plant and they should be able to grow it. But we don’t want these additional policing concerns...It creates an entire whole set of issues I don’t want to see us tackle when we are creating a new industry,"
With Christie still in office for another six months, legislators will have a long window to perfect the bill’s language. No matter how the final semantics work out, bringing legal weed to New Jersey would add an estimated $300 million in tax revenue to state coffers.
“We know that legalizing marijuana will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, the creation of thousands of jobs and a substantial increase in economic activity. It will also mean savings for law enforcement, safer streets, and importantly, a fairer way of treating our residents,” Scutari said. “The benefits are clear, but as part of our work towards legalization, we want to have a robust dialogue...about creating a marijuana program that is best suited for our state."