Now that New Jersey voters have approved a plan to amend the state constitution and allow adults to use recreational marijuana, the Garden State lawmaker who has spear-headed efforts to legalize pot is moving forward with plans to do so.
State Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, could introduce legislation to establish a regulated cannabis industry and a companion measure to decriminalize possession of pot as early as Thursday afternoon.
He said the bill to give the go-ahead for the creation of a marijuana industry will take time to enact after it’s passed, perhaps 18 months or so, but the decriminalization legislation would have an immediate effect “to cease criminal prosecutions from all of those previous and hopefully not subsequent charges of marijuana possession in New Jersey.”
On Wednesday, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a statement on the constitutional amendment legalizing pot, pointing out this does not mean unregulated marijuana is now legal.
Grewal also noted all current criminal laws relating to marijuana continue to apply, so Garden State residents should not “inadvertently engage in criminal conduct relating to marijuana” until the Legislature acts to change the law.
Scutari’s proposed measure would do just that.
He said the legislation to establish a regulated pot industry is “basically done,” because it closely mirrors the bill that was never voted on last year when it became apparent there wasn’t enough support for it to be passed in the Senate.
Scutari pointed out his marijuana measure will propose different steps to ensure minority business interests are included in the plan.
“We’re taking every step that we can, constitutionally possible, to give those affected groups the best opportunity to be involved in a legal cannabis industry,” he said.
The legislation will call for “scoring initiatives for people that reside geographically in the most disparately affected areas, and we’ve also included in there micro-business licensing, which won’t cost a fortune.”
ACLU of New Jersey Executive Director Amol Sinha told New Jersey 101.5 earlier this week that creating an inclusive, racially just and equitable cannabis industry is essential. He said we must make sure this new industry is “just not reserved for millionaires backed by mega corporations.”
Scutari said the fact that about 70 New Jersey towns have already gone on record opposing the production or sale of marijuana in their municipalities is fine.
“They don’t want to do it, they don’t have to,” he said. “But there’s many, many more towns that are going to reap the benefits of a 2% local excise tax from all sales.”
He also noted even if a town prohibits the sale of marijuana, once the industry begins operations, residents of the town will have the legal right to smoke or eat a marijuana product in their own home.
“They’ll be the ones (the towns with bans) that look ridiculous when certain towns are reaping profits across the street and they have some kind of, I don’t know, morality calling or something like that,” he said.
Scott Rudder, the president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, said now that recreational pot has been approved by the voters and legislators are set to move forward, the state needs to make sure it doesn’t over-regulate and over-tax the dispensaries.
Rudder said current regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries involve a competitive process that limits their numbers, and moving forward this system should not be used.
He said avoiding over-regulation and over-taxing the recreational cannabis industry will help to promote competition and lower the price of pot, which will encourage more people to buy from dispensaries and “make sure we’re separating people from the drug dealers, and helping to create a job focused environment in our state.”
“If we lower the barrier of entry so we just treat this like every other business, I think we’re going to see a thriving industry in New Jersey,” he said.
Scutari noted it may take until next summer for recreational dispensaries to begin selling pot but established operations that sell medical marijuana will have a golden opportunity.
“There’s a sliver of an opportunity for our licensed cannabis dealers if they can step up their game and produce enough product,” he said.