If you're going to legalize marijuana, you're going to need the votes. And New Jersey's top lawmaker says he's confident he has them.
Lawmakers, however, appear to be on the brink of having New Jersey join nine other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Medical marijuana use is already allowed in the state.
Alfred Doblin, a spokesman for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, confirmed a quote from the top New Jersey lawmaker who said in an interview that he's confident "we‘ll get to 21 and 41,” referring to the minimum number of votes needed for passage in the Senate and Assembly.
“I‘m not going to get to 28, but I’m confident I’ll get to 21 votes and the speaker will find 41,” Sweeney said in an interview with Politico, saying he's certain he and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, will secure the necessary votes in their chambers to pass marijuana legalization.
Earlier this month, Sweeney told NJBIZ that a vote on legalizing marijuana could take place within the next month and be approved in the state Legislature by the end of September.
“We’re getting closer to two pieces of legislation that’ll be ready to introduce,” Sweeney told NJBIZ. “We’re getting close to having the final draft for us to review, and then talk to our members and get ready to go.”
NJ.com this week also published an interview with Murphy who said he wants to see legalization happen soon. "I'm glad we didn't go first. We're trying to learn from other states," he said. "You've got some pretty strong champions on this."
Here is the interview:
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has already asked for an adjournment of all marijuana cases in municipal courts statewide until at least Sept. 4.
Sweeney was buoyed earlier this month when Coughlin endorsed the marijuana legalization legislation, although state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, who head the Legislative Black Caucus, opposes legalization.
Sweeney told Politico, however, that some people who say they're against the legislation – including Republicans – will ultimately vote for it. “Listen, we’re going to need to work with (Republicans) to pass it,” he said. “I can’t get anyone to make a commitment on something that they have no idea what it looks like, nor would I expect them to make the commitment.”
Whether it's passed by September or not, just don't expect pot to be sold in stores right away.
Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C., told nj.com that the and licensing process could take another six months after the legislation is passed. That schedule could move a lot more quickly if medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to meet the demand.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari and Sweeney, menawhile, have introduced two bills that collectively would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in New Jersey and vastly expand access to medical marijuana.
"These two pieces of legislation we introduced represent a concerted effort to put all the options on the table in an efficient, comprehensive manner," said Scutari, D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union. "The legislation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use would eliminate the draconian laws and penalties currently in place and improve social justice issues in urban areas. Law-abiding adults will be able to partake legally and safely knowing exactly what they're ingesting.
The second bill, he said, combines the new recreational marijuana use with measures that expand the existing medical marijuana law to widen its availability so that patients have "unencumbered access to the full spectrum of relief it provides."
"From a health and wellness standpoint, marijuana provides relief from a host of conditions," said Sweeney. "By expanding its accessibility, we help New Jerseyans live life to its fullest. And by legalizing the possession of marijuana, we correct a great social injustice. Persons of color have been routinely targeted for marijuana possession. If we legalize marijuana, we end that practice while creating a mechanism for individuals convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have their records expunged."
One bill, S-2702, would legalize the possession and personal use of marijuana for individuals 21 years of age and up. An individual could possess, use, purchase or transport one ounce or less of marijuana. Additional regulations would apply for marijuana in liquid form, concentrate or infused in other product.
The state would establish a graduated tax rate on marijuana sales to be implemented over several years. Local governments would retain the right to create their own ordinances governing the time, place and manner of sales and they would have 180 days following enactment of the law to prohibit the operation of an establishment to sell marijuana.
Facilities that currently are licensed to sell medical marijuana would be able to immediately apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana, but would be required to maintain separate spaces for both kinds of sales.
Individuals who have been convicted of possessing 50 grams or less of marijuana would be able to present an application for expungement to the Superior Court.
The second bill, S-2703, "The New Jersey Marijuana Act," would in effect combine the policies and regulations defined in S-2702, with legislation that vastly expands access to medical marijuana.
Currently, the law restricts access to medical marijuana to individuals with a "debilitating medical condition." Under this bill, the term "debilitating medical condition" would be changed to "qualifying medical condition."
Both bills have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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