Key lawmakers in New Jersey have reached an agreement on thorny issues around tax and governance that have been a stumbling block preventing marijuana from full legalization.
They agreed to tax recreational marijuana at a flat rate of $42 an ounce, oversee the proposed recreational program with a five-member commission, and establish an expedited process to remove the criminal records of individuals convicted of low-level marijuana offenses.
The agreement, announced Tuesday, moves approval of recreational cannabis in the Garden State one step closer to the finish line.
“It finally shows that the Democrats from the county to the state level have aligned for legalization, which certainly wasn’t true last year,” said Chris Goldstein a spokesman for the advocacy group NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Communities would be rewarded for allowing businesses to set up shop.
“Municipalities that are home to a cultivator or manufacturer will receive the revenue from a 2 percent tax on the product within their jurisdiction. Municipalities that are home to a wholesaler will receive the revenue from a 1 percent tax on the product within their jurisdiction, while municipalities that are home to a retailer will receive the revenue from a 3 percent tax on the product within their jurisdiction,” according to a statement released by the New Jersey governor’s office.
Municipalities that opt out of hosting marijuana firms won’t reap those benefits.
“Towns that host marijuana businesses in the future will likely be rewarded with billions of tax revenues in the coming decades, whereas towns that refuse to host cannabis businesses will be left out,” said Goldstein. “In N.J., local taxes are the key to a good education. Towns struggling to add business development will be attracted to these businesses to boost revenue.”
The announcement did not address other issues in the pending legislation, such as home delivery.
The next legislative voting session is scheduled for March 25. But if it’s not taken up then, there’s still plenty of time to muster votes before the end of June, said Bill Caruso, one of the leading cannabis lawyers in New Jersey. Caruso, of the law firm Archer, said that “we’re still short about eight to a dozen votes between both houses."
Opposition, oddly enough, is coming from Democrats. “The Republican party is not taking a party position,” Caruso said. “They’re letting legislators vote their conscience.”
Caruso said “one big issue" that could derail the bill involves erasing previous drug convictions. “The Senate bill expanded expungement far beyond cannabis. And that’s a concern, especially to Republicans. If that’s not worked out right they may lose both Republicans and moderate Democrats. We still need to work that through.”
The cannabis commission will be comprised of three members appointed by the governor, with the initial appointments set to serve terms of at least four years, and are not subject to Senate confirmation. Two other members will be appointed by the governor, upon the recommendations of the speaker and Senate president. The commission will promulgate all regulations to govern the industry and will oversee the applications for licensing of adult-use marijuana dispensaries.
According to the statement, a criminal record removal process would automatically prevent certain marijuana offenses from being taken into account in certain areas such as education, housing, and occupational licensing. In addition, a number of provisions are meant to ensure participation from minority- and women-owned businesses, low- and middle-income individuals, and disadvantaged communities across the state.