The most recent New Jersey recreational marijuana bill was announced May 15 by Democratic State Senator Nicholas Scutari at a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton. If passed, the legislation would allow possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solids, 72 ounces in liquid form and 7 grams of concentrate. The bill would also establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate the industry, as well as a sales tax on marijuana ranging from 7 percent to 25 percent over five years. Home cultivation would be prohibited.
Medical marijuana is already legal in the state, and, if passed, this legislation would make New Jersey the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana in addition to Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and D.C. The bill needs to be passed by both houses of the legislature and to be signed by Republican Governor Chris Christie to become law.
Scutari, who sponsored New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, has been lobbying for the state to legalize recreational marijuana and also introduced a past bill to legalize and tax marijuana, although it never progressed out of committee. In September, Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll introduced another measure for legalization, which also never advanced. In October 2016, Scutari led a delegation of state legislators to Colorado to examine that state’s legal marijuana program.
Senator Scurari was not immediately available for comment.
And Scutari is not alone in his legalization efforts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey is a founding member of a diverse coalition that is advocating for legalization in the state. The ACLU is calling for a regulated industry that will allow as many people as possible to join the legal market, with low barriers of entry, reasonable qualifications and the expungement of people’s criminal records if they have been previously convicted. The organization’s efforts to drive legalization in the state include having conversations with lawmakers and lobbyists to see where they stand in the legal debate and show them that legalization can work in the state.
Diana Houenou, Policy Council for the ACLU of New Jersey, believes the state will ultimately see a legalized marijuana industry, although she says it will not be until a new governor takes office. For her, it is not a matter of if, but when.
“In 2018, we will see a new governor, and candidates have stated support in ending the war on marijuana and the marijuana user,” Houenou said. “ACLU is confident that it is going to happen, and we are going to do the best we can to ensure that the legalized industry is open to as many people as possible, to work and to own businesses and to benefit from this new industry.”
To Houenou, it seems lawmakers are becoming educated on the issue and wanting to do more toward legalization, especially after returning from Colorado.
“Lawmakers came back from the trip more enlightened. They saw this really could work here in New Jersey, that the sky has not fallen in Colorado,” she said. “You don’t see the doomsday atmosphere that opponents are claiming is inevitable. They saw it could be done.”
Pete Cammarano, founder of the recently formed New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, has also been working with lawmakers to help pass legislation by the beginning of next year. He is excited that the state could be the next to regulate recreational marijuana, and hopes that legalization will expand New Jersey’s already strong medical market, giving patients more access. His organization has been educating both lawmakers and the public to ensure legislators feel comfortable voting for legalization.
“We want to show them that it’s pretty much a routine life and a normal life that people have,” Cammarano said.
He, too, believes that the delegation’s recent trip to Colorado was an enlightening experience, and that perhaps the studying of Colorado has changed the minds of some opponents of legalization.
“They were really surprised at how routine and business-like the whole industry is,” he said.
There will be a committee meeting at the beginning of June for further education on the issue, but Cammarano is not sure if they will vote yet. He says they will look to pass the bill legislatively, and that there is bipartisan support—it is just a matter of a governor who supports legalization. He hopes they can build momentum toward legalization so that when a new governor is elected, they can pass the legislation, he said.
“Having leadership in both houses being supportive of the issue is significant,” Cammarano said. “I think it’s just a matter of educating the legislators. A lot of them are supportive, but do not understand it. They need to understand that the world’s not going to end.”