By Chloe Aiello
New Jersey state Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-N.J.) says the Garden State will welcome New Yorkers with open arms once it legalizes recreational marijuana ー which could happen very soon.
"All the individuals that are within a stone's throw of New Jersey will be able to come over to New Jersey to buy legal product and consume legal product here, and we welcome them to come over and do that," Scutari said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday announced he reached an agreement with state legislative leaders, including Scutari, on the broad outlines of recreational legalization. If the legislation passes ー and Scutari said he expects it to ー it would make New Jersey one of the few states in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, rather than by ballot iniative.
Kris Krane, New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association trustee and president of cannabis consulting firm 4Front Ventures, said that while "nothing is done until it's done," this bill represents an opportunity for New Jersey's state legislature to set an important example.
"It is important to note not a single state in the U.S. has yet fully legalized marijuana, including a commercial market, through the state legislature. So New Jersey is poised to potentially be the very first in the country to do so and it looks like they are well on track," Krane said.
Vermont was actually the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, according to the NCSL, but the original bill did not include guidelines for a commercial market.
If the bill passes, that would put New Jersey's legalization timeline ahead of New York's. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday he's "no longer confident" legalization will be included in the state budget, due in just over two weeks.
An accelerated timeline gives New Jersey cannabis producers an opportunity to take advantage of New York's massive market ー which might be a dream for the New Jersey cannabis industry, but it's likely bad news for New York, which would face losing out on tax revenue.
"That will give us a much larger market. Manhattan is just across the bridge and across the tunnel from northern New Jersey and we're hopeful that customers will come over, as well," Scutari said.
Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to Cheddar's request for comment.
Provisions of the proposed bill, detailed in a statement from Murphy's office, include an excise tax of $42 per ounce, imposed at cultivation, plus some smaller additional taxes that will be collected by the home municipalities of cultivators, wholesalers, and retailers.
"The state of New Jersey and the taxpayers are the ones who benefit the most," Scutari said. "But the other parts of it that are really important in terms of economic drivers are the employment opportunities there, it will be an entire industry created from the ground up."
A governor-appointed commission will oversee adult use regulations and licensing. The bill also includes an expedited expungement process for individuals with low-level convictions, as well as provisions that ensure minorities, women and the economically disadvantaged can participate in the industry.
Scutari added that there will be a companion bill to further address New Jersey's "onerous" expungement process.
"We'd like to not only expand on the opportunities for people to clean away their records, but also to put it in an expedited fashion so we can continue to give them opportunities to go to college and join our economy," Scutari said.
A final version of the bill will be available sometime this week, and it could go up for vote in the Democrat-controlled New Jersey legislature as soon as the end of the month.
"We are hopeful that at the end of the month we are going to call a vote. If we can get the votes done there and then, then legalization will be right around the corner," he said.
One detail that still needs to be finalized, however, is the timeline for recreational sales. Scutari said one idea at play is that licensed medical dispensaries in the state will be able to sell to individuals over the age of 21 "right away" after Gov. Murphy signs the bill.
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