The Garden State is in the home stretch of legalizing recreational marijuana, but many New Jersey residents are still skeptical due to broken promises in the past. After Chris Christie, who was practically a prohibitionist, many were hopeful when Governor Phil Murphy vowed to legalize cannabis within his first 100 days.
This campaign promise might have been nearsighted as legislation has been bogged down with debate on regulation, taxation, social equity, and expungement for convicts. Ken Wolski, Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, notes that “The lack of progress is because too many people want too many things from marijuana legalization—taxes, home cultivation, automatic expungement, industry representation, inner city reparations.”
Fortunately, there has been some major progress in recent weeks. New Jersey’s legalization bill, S2703/A4497, aka “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act,” has made it through committee and it seems lawmakers have finally found common ground on taxation.
Appeasing both parties wasn’t easy but they’ve settled on a tax by weight, which would be set at $42 per ounce flat rate. Not only will this satisfy republicans and democrats but it provides New Jersey with a stable revenue stream that won’t be affected by the fluctuating price of cannabis.
Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association commented on the compromise saying, “That’s been the frustration since Murphy’s election. We’ve felt so close for so long that it’s starting to sound like a contradiction. And so now we finally have an agreement in principle on tough issues like regulation and taxation. Then we must convince a majority to support it. So we’re closer than we’ve ever been. Again.”
While Governor Murphy is still enthusiastic about legalizing recreational marijuana, he’s been sidetracked by a budget stalemate. He has already helped expand medical marijuana in New Jersey and recently his deputy press secretary, Alyana Alfaro, stated that “The Governor is committed to working with the Legislature to legalize adult-use marijuana the right way, one that makes the state fairer, prioritizes the safety of New Jersey residents, and ensures that some of the economic benefits go to the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.”
The next step is to legalization is to establish a framework for how the expungement process will work for victims of the war on drugs. This could potentially be a major roadblock as the entire bill could fall apart if legislators don’t come up with an efficient way to handle expungements.
It’s estimated that one million New Jersey residents might be eligible for expungement for past marijuana related convictions. Dianna Houenou, policy council for ACLU, notes that, “The legislature has to figure this out quickly because the current expungement system is unsuitable for the tens, and hundreds of thousands of petitions.”
There are definitely a few hurdles in the path to legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey but if lawmakers remain motivated this can be accomplished. It’s just a matter of coming to a consensus on the issues and providing the infrastructure to enable a smooth roll out. Wolski pointed out that, “We won’t undo decades of drug war excesses in a single piece of legislation. I say just get it done. Pass the adult use bill into law, even if it’s not perfect. Marijuana reform is incremental and has been going on for decades.”