Once New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy took office in 2018, it was only a matter of time before the state legalized recreational marijuana. And now, just a little over a year into his first term, Gov. Murphy and legislative leaders are announcing that they have reached an agreement on the broad outlines of legalization. The agreement is a major step on New Jersey’s path to legal cannabis.
Finally, Consensus Over Adult-Use Legalization in New Jersey
It took months of closed-door meetings and tough negotiations, but New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy finally has an adult-use legalization bill he supports. Holdovers from the Chris Christie administration have made things tough for drug policy reformers. And differing priorities all competed to shape the legislation. For Murphy, who campaigned for governor on a social justice platform, the most important piece of the puzzle was social justice reforms. For other supporters of legalization, the most important piece was ensuring the industry would be profitable for New Jersey.
Those different perspectives led to some eruptive public hearings on the issue of legalization. Murphy, along with Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other top Democrats, believe their proposal takes all of those perspectives into account. Speaker Coughlin thanked Gov. Murphy and Senate President Sweeney for “their tireless efforts and willingness to compromise so we could put forth the most responsible legislation possible.”
Gov. Murphy and his high-ranking Democratic coalition of supporters say their adult-use bill will both boost the state’s economy and usher in critical social justice reforms. Sen. Nicholas Scutari echoed those sentiments, calling the measure a “well-crafted legal reform that will advance social policy in a fair and effective way.”
What We Know About New Jersey’s Recreational Weed Bill
So what are the broad outlines of the recreational marijuana bill that finally brought the governor and top lawmakers to consensus? Under the terms of the proposal, New Jersey will tax cultivators at $42 per ounce. Additionally, municipalities will have the authority to levy their own taxes on the industry. While local tax provisions tend to draw ire from the industry, they’re often necessary to incentivize cities to host weed companies. And that’s important in New Jersey, where dozens of towns have already elected to ban the industry.
Social justice provisions aim to bolster equity and fairness in the industry. The bill would help to promote the participation of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) in the state, as well as low- and middle-income individuals. Other provisions would help redress the current and past harms of prohibition and criminalization. The bill includes a framework for expedited record expungement for minor marijuana offenses. It will also implement a system to automatically prevent weed offenses from showing up on checks related to education, housing or occupational license applications.
The final, full text of the bill is still pending final revisions and edits. But it should be available in the next few days.
Republican Opponents of Legalization Call Tax Revenue “Blood Money”
Once Democrats introduce the bill in the New Jersey legislature, it likely face some committed opposition. Democrats currently hold a majority, but not everyone on that side of the aisle has signed on to adult-use legalization yet. Republican Senators are already blasting the new recreational weed proposal, and with some fairly bombastic rhetoric. New Jersey Sen. Gerald Cardinale argued legalization would increase traffic accidents before launching into a tirade about weed taxes and blood money.
“That blood money that he’s going to collect in taxes that is blood money. It is going to come from the blood of people who don’t use marijuana who unfortunately are involved with people who do,” Sen. Cardinale said.
That’s the kind of opposition the bill will face in the New Jersey legislator. But if it can make it through, at least we know Gov. Murphy is going to sign it.