NJ Senators advance bill creating recreational cannabis market

Marijuana buds are seen in a prescription bottle as they are sorted at Compassionate Care Foundation's grow house

Marijuana buds are seen in a prescription bottle as they are sorted at Compassionate Care Foundation's grow house, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

New Jersey lawmakers moved legislation to set up the recreational marijuana market in the new year one step forward on Monday.

The Democrat-led state Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the legislation to the floor later this week for a vote. The Democrat-led Assembly is also expected to advance the measure this week, sending it to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

Murphy has said he and lawmakers have agreed on the measure, though he didn’t reveal details at the time.

The measure that advanced Monday promises to commit 70% of the 6.6.25% of the sales tax proceeds and all of the money raised from a new excise tax to communities disproportionately affected by arrests on marijuana charges.

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“As a municipal prosecutor, I have seen the effects of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ with failed laws that have a prejudicial impact on communities of color. Too many people are arrested, incarcerated and left with criminal records that disrupt and even destroy their lives. New Jersey can be a national leader in legalizing a once stigmatized drug,” bill sponsor Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari said.

The remaining 30% portion from the sales tax would go to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to cover the cost of its operations as well as to law enforcement across the state for drug-recognition training.

The measure also calls for capping at 37 the number of licenses for cannabis cultivators, though the cap will expire after two years.

The Senate and Assembly are expected to vote Thursday for the measure, along with a separate bill to decriminalize possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana.

New Jersey voters in November overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing for recreational marijuana use by those 21 and older. Lawmakers have until Jan. 1, when the amendment goes into effect, to craft legislation regulating the market.

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Without such legislation, it would produce a “constitutional crisis,” according to Scutari, because the state charter would allow for recreational use, but state law would not have yet set up a legal marketplace.

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