New Jersey could become the ninth state to legalize recreational cannabis, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and the District of Columbia.
“It is time to end the detrimental effect these archaic laws are having on our residents and our state,” said State Senator Nicholas Scutari. The details of the bill include the following:
- Legal recreational marijuana for New Jersey residents 21 and older
- Individual possession would be limited to 1 ounce of flowers, 16 ounces of marijuana in “solid” form (edibles), 72 ounces in liquid form, and 7 grams of concentrate.
- A Division of Marijuana Enforcement would be created to run the new program and enforce regulation within one year of the bill’s passage. The Division would also be responsible for creating policy that would help expunge certain drug crimes from criminal records.
- A sales tax that would begin at 7 percent and increase to 25 percent over five years
- Revenue could add up to $300 million annually
- Home growing would be prohibited.
- The immediate decriminalization of possession of 50 grams of cannabis or less, with fines not exceeding $100
Scutari has made an effort to learn about the realities of legalized cannabis, making trips to Colorado to witness firsthand the effect legalization has on tax revenue and incarceration.
“States that have legalized cannabis have not seen the doom and gloom scenarios that the critics had predicted,” he said.
Getting the bill through the state legislature is difficult even with plenty of support. While public hearings will be offered and committees convened to discuss the bill’s potential, strong opposition is expected by Scutari’s political opponents. “I’ve got a guy right down the hall there who doesn’t want to pass it and is working hard against it, and he can be a tough adversary on occasion,” Scutari said, referring to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Christie has been a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana. In a state that both hosts the pharmaceutical industry and is a victim of its products, Christie has brazenly ignored evidence that marijuana may help battle the opioid crisis. Instead, he has chosen to make legalization a partisan argument, labeling cannabis reform by Democrats as, “crazy liberals who want to say everything’s OK.”
New Jersey has already legalized medical marijuana, but it is limited to a very small number of patients. There are currently no details on how the new legislation would affect the existing medical marijuana program.
Scutari hopes to have the bill as far through the legislative process as possible by the time the next governor takes office in January. Democratic candidates, including front-runner Phil Murphy, have said that they support legalization. “We got to get the ball rolling and educate the legislators,” said Scutari. “This is not something I can guarantee passage of right now.”