New Jersey has just moved closer to becoming the eleventh state in the US to legalize marijuana. Members of NJ's State Senate and Assembly met on Monday (11/26) and voted in favor of a legalization bill, as well as an expansion to NJ's medical marijuana program and an overhaul of rules relating to expunging crimes related to drugs. The bill moves next to the full Senate and Assembly, and to new NJ governor Phil Murphy, who named legalizing weed in the state a priority for his first 100 days in office, for signing.
From Asbury Park Press:
When asked about the legalization bill at an unrelated event Monday, the governor declined to comment on specifics, offering only that he was “encouraged that it’s moving in the right direction.”
“It’s too early to tell as it relates to exactly the elements that ultimately are in there,” said Murphy, who has been at odds with lawmakers over how to regulate the new industry and how much to tax it. “We’ll see, but I'm happy to see the progress.”
The Statehouse on Monday was packed with lobbyists and activists who testified for more than four hours. One committee room became so crowded that state troopers had to stand in front of the doors to prevent more people from entering.
Most people were there for the marijuana legalization bill, S-2703, which would make it legal to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and consume it at home or in specifically designated areas. The bill establishes a 12 percent state tax rate on marijuana purchases, while municipalities could impose an additional 2 percent tax.
The bill also calls for the expungement of marijuana crimes that would now be considered legal.
Other measures approved Monday received less attention but would also have far-reaching effects on the state.
One measure, S-10, would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by increasing the monthly medical marijuana cap from 2 ounces to 3 ounces per patient, legalizing edible forms of medical marijuana for adults and jump-starting the permitting process for new medical marijuana dispensaries, manufacturers and cultivators.
Another, S-3205, would make major changes to how New Jersey handles expungements. It would make more crimes eligible for expungement — including offenses involving controlled dangerous substances — and cut down the wait time to five years. It also includes a "clean slate" process that would wipe away all offenses at once for anyone who has a clean record for 10 years after their last offense. Many more serious crimes would not be eligible expungement.
If the marijuana legalization bill is signed into law as written, the Garden State would have one of the lowest effective tax rates in the country. Oregon, California, Michigan and Massachusetts all impose excise, sales or other taxes that add up to more than 15 percent. Other states, such as Washington, Nevada and Colorado, have effective tax rates of at least 25 percent.
Other aspects of the legislation would also make New Jersey different from other states. Dispensaries would be allowed to open separate "consumption areas," where marijuana customers could consume the product as long as the local government approves them. In most other states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal, users are allowed to consume the drug only at home.
And New Jersey would be just the fourth state with legal weed delivery services, allowing dispensaries to invest in secure fleets of delivery vehicles or hire independent vendors.
In New York, arraignments for marijuana charges in Manhattan dropped 86.5% in August, September, and October of 2018 vs the same months in 2017, since the Manhattan District Attorney stopped prosecuting most "low level" pot offenses in August, according to a report cited by Patch.com.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the first licensed stores selling legalized marijuana to adults for recreational use opened a week ago (11/20) in Northampton and Leicester. Neighbors of the stores have complained about increased traffic since the openings.