New Jersey lawmakers have passed the bill to legalize cannabis as required by the ballot question approved by voters during the General Election, NJ.com reports. The measure moves to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it.
Both chambers also approved separate legislation to end arrests for possessing up to six ounces of cannabis and selling up to one ounce, along with a bill lower penalties for psilocybin possession.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), a longtime champion for legalization in the Garden State, said prior to the vote that nothing in his legislative career “will have a greater impact” than the cannabis reforms. However, Sen. Nia Gill said Scutari “cannot take a bow on the stage” because the social justice provisions in the law are its “weakest part.”
As passed, the measure directs 70 percent of the cannabis-derived state sales taxes and an excise tax on cultivation to certain minority communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war. But some argue the language is not strong enough to guarantee the funds go to such community programs. Advocates also wanted the bill to outline a path for those with previous cannabis convictions to enter the legal industry.
The Senate passed another standalone measure to allow current medical cannabis operators and investors to fund new licenses for minorities, women, and disabled veterans. That bill still requires Assembly approval.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, described the legalization bill as imperfect and a “creature of compromise.”
“We’re all recognizing the historic nature of this moment. For years now, the better part of a decade, we have been advocating for legislation that would legalize cannabis and help repair the harms of the war on drugs. We are finally at a place where we can see the finish line.” – Sinha to NJ.com
Once signed by Murphy, officials will need to name members to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which would establish rules and license businesses. It could take at least a year before the state’s first adult-use sales.
The state Assembly passed the measure 49-24 with six abstentions, with the Senate passing it 23-17.