With the election of Phil Murphy as New Jersey’s next governor, legislators and advocates are working to get a bill legalizing marijuana on his desk within his first 100 days.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, introduced the bill earlier this year, but with Chris Christie in office until January, the bill has stayed in committee, as has its twin in the Assembly.
Murphy has said he would legalize weed in New Jersey, but the bill that lands on his desk could look quite a bit different than the one sitting in committee at the moment. Advocates and legislators agree than some changes are necessary for the bill to pass the Legislature.
What the bill says now
Scutari’s bill would legalize the possession and personal use of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. It also establishes an enforcement agency, along with a licensing system for growers and retailers.
Towns that allow weed sales would be able to collect a portion of tax revenues generated in the state, while those that don’t allow sales wouldn’t be able to collect the revenues.
Under the bill, people in New Jersey who have been convicted of marijuana-related crimes would be eligible to have their records expunged.
Below are some of the changes to the bill that advocates and legislators are considering.
Would people be able to grow weed at home?
In other states that have legalized marijuana, people are allowed to grow a small number of cannabis plants at home. The bill that was introduced in the state Senate this year does not permit home-grow.
Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said her organization will advocate for home-grow to be added to the bill. She said, if the bill passes, New Jersey would be the only state to not allow people to grow at home.
Scutari said he’d be open to discussing home-grow, but said he probably wouldn’t support it at first.
“Right now it’s too much,” Scutari said. “I’m not fundamentally against it, but I’m aware of the problems. I’m a realist.”
Would marijuana offenses be expunged?
Murphy has said that his support for legalizing cannabis comes down to the potential criminal justice benefits that would accompany such a move. Murphy is among those who believes law enforcement is wasting precious resources by arresting people on low-level marijuana crimes.
Data shows that blacks are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the two groups using weed at about the same rate.
Scutari’s bill would make people charged with low-level pot offenses eligible to have their records cleared, but advocates say they’d like to see more.
“We’re calling for automatic expungements,” said Dianna Houenou, of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, an advocacy group. “People should not continue bearing the consequences of something we say is now legal.”
As the bill is written, people would have to apply to have their record cleared. NJUMR and other groups say that if the bill is passed, anyone convicted of low-level marijuana offenses should have their record automatically scrubbed.
How about diversity in ownership?
Marijuana legalization would do more than just allow people to smoke weed or eat edibles. It would create a brand new industry in New Jersey; one that some estimate could eventually generate billions of dollars every year.
Advocates are pressing to ensure that a variety of people get a cut of that money.
Scutari’s bill requires the enforcement division to set goals for women- and minority-owned businesses, but is vague on what those goals should be. Dan McKillop, a New Jersey attorney already advising clients on cannabis questions, said the goal should be to get a diverse group of owners.
“Your goals to that end are going to be frustrated if one person with $100 million can come in and dominate,” McKillop said.
Source: 420 Intel – United States