Legal cannabis bill heads to full floor vote next week.


Byline: Jessica Perry

Committees in both the Assembly and state Senate approved a measure that would legalize adult-use recreational marijuana, setting the proposals for a showdown full-floor vote on March 25.

Senate Bill 2703 passed by a 6-4 vote with one abstention in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday evening while its counterpart, Assembly Bill 4497, passed by a 6-1 vote with two abstentions at the Assembly Appropriations Committee that same day.

A senior administration official for Gov. Phil Murphy's office who spoke on condition of anonymity told NJBIZ that the governor had been making "dozens of calls" to lawmakers earlier today to get them on board with voting in favor of the legal marijuana bill.

Both measures would allow for anyone over 21 years of age to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

The product would be taxed at $42 an ounce and the industry regulated by a five-person Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will function similar to how the Casino Control Commission operated following the legalization of gambling in the 1970s.

The approval of both measures followed hours of closed-door meetings as lawmakers hammered out last-minute changes to the legislation, including a dramatically increased expungement process for people with marijuana-related convictions.

S2703 calls for capping the growth facilities at 28 for the first year and a half, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District and a key backer of the marijuana legislation, told NJBIZ.

"It's a consideration to not oversaturate the market with the product," Scutari said.

New Jersey's existing alternative treatment centers where patients can purchase medicinal marijuana would be grandfathered into the new law, Scutari said.

They would be allowed to operate business as usual for six months, after which they can sell their excess cannabis to recreational users.

Gov. Phil Murphy's budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which starts in July, calls for $60 million of tax revenue from legal marijuana, assuming patrons can purchase cannabis beginning January 2020.

The budget also anticipates a one-time cost of $21 million to set up a regulatory framework, spelling out $39 million of net revenue in the next year. Murphy's budget predicts that enforcement and regulation of cannabis will cost the state roughly $12 million annually.

Cannabis commission

Oversight of the marijuana industry will be left up to a powerful five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will handle matters...

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