New Jersey’s new proposal for legal weed isn’t light reading, but for lawmakers, it’s high time the state got in on the marijuana tax revenue that has generated so much cash for other states. In a major legislative move on Monday, Democratic State Senator Nicholas Scutari unveiled a 60-page bill outlining laws and regulations for growing, selling and using recreational cannabis in the state.
Scutari, the bill’s sponsor, modeled it after similar legislation in weed-legal states like Colorado. In fact, Senator Scutari had visited Colorado to study their cannabis laws, and he left impressed with what he saw.
At this point, however, Scutari’s bill to legalize recreational marijuana is more symbolic than practical. With Republican Governor Chris Christie in power, the bill isn’t likely to pass. Christie continues to be an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization.
But Scutari and other pro-cannabis lawmakers have their sights set on the future. New Jersey will elect a new governor on November 7, 2017. And all of the Democratic candidates have thrown their support behind recreational legalization.
Massive Marijuana Tax Could Transform New JerseyThe reason is simple: they’re eyeing the massive marijuana tax that would come with the legislation. In fact, the marijuana tax would be so beneficial to the state, that even GOP candidates have been hesitant to outright reject the proposed bill.
Despite overwhelming popular support and the mountain of evidence that marijuana prohibition has failed, Governor Christie has maintained his hard-line opposition to legalizing cannabis. He calls legalizing cannabis for tax purposes “blood money,” according to sources with CBS News.
But Scutari and other lawmakers supporting legalization see things differently. They point to the failure of cannabis prohibition and the tremendous cost it has foisted on the state’s budget.
According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, New Jersey spends over $127 million enforcing the state’s prohibition on cannabis. The money that recreational legalization would save is persuading even state prosecutors to support the new bill that was announced on Monday.
Beyond the savings on drug enforcement, the state also stands to gain millions in marijuana tax revenue. Scutari points to states like Colorado, which pulled down $200 million in taxes from the legal cannabis industry in 2016 alone.
The marijuana tax plan Scutari outlined in the new bill will encourage early participation. The point is to progressively tax and regulate cannabis businesses. Specifically, the bill will incrementally increase the tax on cannabis sales over time.
In the first year, the bill would tax cannabis 7 percent at the point of sale. Over five years, that amount would increase to 25 percent. However, 25 percent is a massive marijuana tax. This is much higher compared Colorado, where taxes on cannabis are about 13 percent, or California, with 15 percent. Scutari hopes the massive tax will motivate legislators to support the bill.
New Jersey Eyes Marijuana Tax Revenue, But Does The Bill Do Enough For Consumers?
In addition to Republican-led opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey, pro-cannabis advocates are raising concerns.
Scutari’s bill would allow folks in New Jersey to possess up to an ounce of cannabis, and a pound of solid “marijuana-infused products” like edibles. It would also allow possession of 72 ounces of liquid cannabis and 7 grams of concentrate. However, the bill does prohibit home cultivation. This is a sticking point for consumer advocates, who worry the bill unfairly privileges the industry.
But Scutari says that his plan addresses the problem of illicit drug dealing and takes advantage of the national trend. “People are smoking it anyway,” Scutari told NJ.com, “And we can use the marijuana tax revenue.”
So while passing the bill isn’t something Scutari can guarantee at the moment, he’s aiming to get the ball rolling. Educating other legislators and preparing for a new administration in January 2018 are essential fist steps, according to Scutari. “We’ve got to work it so it will be ready for a new administration come January,” he said.