By Brian Henry
New Jersey lawmakers postponed a vote on Monday that would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state, but advocates, including New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder, told Cheddar the decision are calling it a “temporary setback.”
“The concerns yesterday were [that] we need more time. It’s a 177 page document that's going to end 81 years of prohibition and establish an industry in its place. That necessarily takes time," said Rudder, who is also a lobbyist at Burton Trent.
Rudder said many Republican lawmakers were upset last week, when language surrounding expungements in the a package of legalization bills was changed. The bill would have to allow people with convictions for possessing up to five pounds of marijuana to have their records cleared ー compared with a previous cap of 50 grams. Lawmakers didn't have enough time to ease those concerns, Rudder said.
“For a lot of people that was startling. They wanted to know why. Having only a few days to address the 'why' was a challenge. Expungement needs to be part of this process so let's take this moment and address the why," Rudder told Cheddar.
He also hopes to mitigate the fears Rudder is hopeful he can change the minds of lawmakers who worry legalization would lead to children consuming cannabis-infused candy, so proponents of the bills can get on with implementing some of the more pressing issues.
“A regulated market is much better than the illicit black market that is out there right now. We want to make sure that dispensary operators are operating. They card people that are 21 and over. You can’t enter into a dispensary unless you’re 21. Drug dealers don’t care if you’re 10, 12, 15 or 45. We want a regulated market in New Jersey. It's safer for our communities, we’ll be able to create jobs, pay taxes. I think we’ll be there much sooner than people anticipate.”
Despite the setback on Monday, Rudder said he anticipates seeing some changes in the near-term. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy had told reporters he was preparing to announce an aggressive expansion of the current medical marijuana program, but withdrew his announcement on Tuesday, according to NJ.com.
“That has to happen. We have six dispensaries up and running right now.” Rudder told Cheddar. “We do need to move forward in New Jersey with the medical program. That is no question. Patients need greater access, patients need more affordable medication. That only happens when there’s more dispensaries, more competition and more product out there. "We do anticipate to see some action in the near term. That is very welcome. And the governor can do all that under the existing law right now.”
It seems unlikely that New York will be able to move forward with legalize recreational marijuana legalization in the imminent future, which means New Jersey might still have a shot of getting out in front. Whichever state legalizes first can take advantage of the other's customers, as well as potentially attract early investment. Rudder added that although New Jersey wants "to beat New York," the industries will eventually be able to co-exist.
“We want to make sure our operators are up and running. We want to make sure we’re attracting the investment both here in New Jersey and out of state as well. We’re going to be very symbiotic with New York, as we will with Pennsylvania. New York sports teams are actually based in New Jersey. We have this great relationship. Our two industries will be symbiotic.”
New Jersey lawmakers are expected to schedule another vote later this year. And Rudder said the pause caused by Monday's decision might actually buy proponents the time they need to whip up support for the measures.
“For those who had questions, those who had concerns, by pausing for a moment ー and we believe this will only be a moment ー we’ll be able to address these concerns. I think at that point we’re going to get the votes we need," Rudder said.