One month until pot is legalized, but details remain hazy
With one month left until recreational use of marijuana by adults is legal under the New Jersey constitution, it’s not clear if lawmakers are any closer to resolving disagreements that emerged 11 days ago to impede the enactment of its regulatory framework.
The Senate and Assembly aren’t in synch on whether to cap licenses for marijuana growers, what the rules should be for workplace testing and safety or how to spend resulting tax revenues.
They’ve also hit a snag on a companion bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana, after the Senate added an amendment downgrading the penalties for possessing psychedelic mushrooms.
Assemblyman James Kennedy, D-Union, introduced a bill Monday (A5084) that would spin the mushroom reclassification into a standalone bill. He represents the same district as the sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, but Scutari didn’t bring up the topic in an online forum Monday.
In the forum, organized by the Senate Majority Office, Scutari warned of problems in January if the Legislature doesn’t get a law in place regulating marijuana, which was legalized by two-thirds of voters in the general election.
“I don’t know how, without a regulatory framework passed before the 1st of the year, how arrests can continue. I don’t know how they would be,” said Scutari, D-Union. “I would be happy to challenge those on constitutional grounds if people continue to get arrested after the 1st of the year if we take no action on a regulatory framework.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, reiterated his support for the changes made to the legalization bill in the Senate that would specify how the tax money would be spent. All the money from a new impact fee would go to programs benefiting minority communities, along with 70% of the resulting sales tax revenue. The other 30% would go to law enforcement.
“We in the Senate made clear where we want the tax dollars to go – communities that are impacted. In fact, we have a constitutional amendment to mandate where that money goes,” Sweeney said. “It was never about taxes. Everyone thinks this was about taxes and this was going to save the state budget. It’s not. And we never looked at it that way.”
Richard Todd Edwards, political action chair for the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, said it’s important not to overtax marijuana to better compete with black-market marijuana sales. He also opposes a cap on the number of licenses.
“At the same time, we don’t want weed dispensaries on every corner like we have liquor stores and the whole nine in our communities because we were most harmed behind it,” Edwards said. “We want to get money other ways.”
Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, also opposes capping the number of licenses. The Assembly bill would cap it at 37, while the Senate bill doesn’t include a cap and leaves the decision to the new regulatory commission.
“We think that with fewer licenses, it’s harder for communities of color to get a piece of that pie. So we need to make the pie bigger there,” Estevez said.
The next Senate and Assembly voting sessions where the legalization and decriminalization bills could be approved is scheduled for Dec. 17.
“The fact that we still don’t have a decrim bill on the books and that is signed into law is really a disgrace as far as policy-makers is concerned,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.