Exciting news! Today, both the N.J. Senate and Assembly voted to advance two bills that would legalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis and create the regulatory structure for adult-use sales. The Assembly passed S.21/A.21, “The NJ Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act,” in a 49-24 vote with six abstentions. The Senate passed the measure in a 23-17 vote with no abstentions.
You may recall that a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis, which was approved by around two-thirds of New Jersey voters on Election Day, takes effect January 1. But it only allows for legalization of a regulated market, which means possession of cannabis remains illegal until Gov. Phil Murphy signs the enabling legislation.
Under the negotiated version of S.21/A.21, the number of cultivation licenses would be capped at 37 for the first 24 months after the bill’s enactment. Facilities with 2,500 square feet or less and fewer than 1,000 plants are not included in the cap. The sales tax revenue would be divided up, with 70 percent going to social justice programs and 100 percent of cultivation excise fees going to a social equity fund that would be directed to social justice reforms in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The remaining 30 percent of sales tax revenue would be used to support the work of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission and for enforcement personnel training and equipment for drug recognition experts.
The excise fee, which could be imposed by the newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission nine months after the first recreational cannabis sales, is structured to rise as the average price of cannabis falls.
Also today, the Assembly passed an amended version of A.1897/4269. Under the amended bill, up to six ounces of cannabis and 170 grams of hashish could be possessed legally with no associated criminal or civil penalties. Additionally, the bill removes penalties for use or possession for people currently on parole or probation. The bill also eliminates the odor of cannabis as a basis to initiate a search of a person and removes cannabis-related offenses from consideration in pretrial release and detention. The Senate passed the measure last month in a 29-4 vote with no abstentions. Today, the Assembly passed the measure in a 64-12 vote with one abstention.
Both bills now head to Gov. Murphy for his signature.