New Jersey lawmakers wasted no time, already reintroducing three marijuana legalization bills in the new legislative session. The legislation has a much greater likelihood of passage with Gov. Phil Murphy in office.
Sen. Scutari Reintroduces Comprehensive Recreational Cannabis Bill
Sen. Nicolas Scutari reintroduced his legislation, which would allow New Jersey residents over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 16 ounces of infused solid products, or 72 ounces in liquid form. It would also establish the Division of Marijuana to oversee the legal cannabis industry.
Much like its predecessor, Senate Bill 830 would levy a seven percent tax upon cannabis or cannabis products sold or otherwise transferred by a cannabis retailer to a consumer. To encourage early participation in and development of cannabis establishments and to undermine the illicit cannabis market, the tax would escalate annually over a three-year period, increasing to 10 percent in the second year, 15 percent in the third, 20 percent in the fourth, and 25 percent in the fifth. Cannabis intended for sale at medical cannabis centers pursuant to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act would no longer be taxed.
S830 also creates a licensing scheme for cannabis producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and transporters. All prospective licensees must complete application requirements, meet residency requirements, and undergo a criminal history record background check. The bill would require at least one dispensary in each county, but does not cap the number of dispensaries.
Assembly Bill to Offer Alternative Plan for Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is co-sponsoring Sen. Scutari’s legislation in the New Jersey Assembly (Assembly Bill 1348). However, he also plans to roll out his own competing legalization in the coming weeks.
According to Gusciora’s chief of staff, Brendan Neal, Sen. Scutari’s plan served as the framework for the new bill. The legislation would also allow New Jersey residents over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 16 ounces of infused solid products, or 72 ounces in liquid form. It would also tax cannabis sales and use the same licensing structure to govern the legal cannabis industry.
There are, however, a few notable differences. In response to criticisms of Sen. Scutari’s bill, Gusciora would allow New Jersey residents to grow up to six cannabis plants in an enclosed space at their home. In an effort to discourage black market sales, it would also impose lower taxes.
Of particular interest to New Jersey’s growing cannabis industry, the Assembly plan would limit the number of cannabis businesses in New Jersey. The bill sets the cap on the number of dispensaries to one in each of the state’s 40 legislative districts over the first two years of the program and increases to two per district by the third year.
“We want to concentrate them in urban areas and ensure that people will have access to stores in their district, but we don’t want, say, three in a rural Hunterdon County,” Neal told Vice. “There’s no way we want more marijuana shops than Taco Bells—and there are 99 Taco Bells in New Jersey.”
The New Jersey cannabis bill would also extend the phase-in time of legislation from one year to two years. However, it would authorize existing medical marijuana dispensaries to incorporate as separate businesses and begin making recreational sales to the public four months after the law passes.
Bill to Legalize Possession of Marijuana
The final New Jersey bill would legalize possession, as well as expunge, on an expedited basis, criminal or disorderly persons offense convictions pre-dating marijuana legalization that relate to marijuana possession, use or being under the influence of marijuana, or failure to make lawful disposition of marijuana. It would not, however, create a regulated marketplace for cannabis.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 1557, would legalize marijuana by removing all criminal liability associated with marijuana from the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, as well as its regulation as a controlled dangerous substance under the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. The manufacturing, distribution, possession, and use of medical marijuana would remain subject to those laws and the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
Similar to cigarettes and other tobacco products, the sale or distribution of marijuana, marijuana products, or the cannabis would be prohibited to persons less than 19 years of age. Violators would face a civil penalty of not less than $250 for the first violation, not less than $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and any subsequent violation. The Commissioner of Health would be authorized to enforce the prohibition against underage marijuana sales or distribution, or delegate the enforcement authority to local health agencies, and make a quarterly report to the Legislature on prohibition enforcement, just as the commissioner does currently with respect to cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The bill would treat legal marijuana similarly to cigarettes and other tobacco products in several other ways, including:
- Prohibiting marijuana smoking in various indoor or public places pursuant to the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act;
- Prohibiting industrial manufacturing of marijuana for an employer in a home setting;
- Prohibiting advertisements for marijuana on the exterior sides of school buses owned
- Requiring instructional programs in schools on the physiological, psychological, and sociological effects of marijuana on the individual, family, and society.
The Scarinci Hollenbeck Cannabis Law Practice group will be continuously tracking all three bills. While Senator Scutari’s bill has the most traction, the legislation will likely undergo amendments prior to passage and may even include some provisions of Assemblyman Gusciora’s competing plan. We encourage current and prospective members of the New Jersey cannabis industry to check back regularly for updates.
This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:
- Apply for a NJ Recreational Use Marijuana Dispensary License
- AG Sessions Targets Cannabis Industry by Rescinding Cole Memo
- Business of Cannabis in New Jersey – 2017 In Review
If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.
Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.