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New Jersey Lawmakers Begin Hearings for Marijuana Legalization

It looks like marijuana legalization is on the fast-track in the Garden State.

A.J. Herrington

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New Jersey Lawmakers Begin Hearings for Marijuana Legalization
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New Jersey lawmakers in two legislative committees will begin hearings on Monday for a marijuana legalization deal announced by Gov. Phil Murphy last week. The Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Judiciary committees are scheduled to consider the Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act when they meet on Monday. If the bill is approved by both committees, it could be up for a floor vote as soon as March 25.

Murphy said last week that legal cannabis could provide New Jersey with new economic opportunities.

“It is an industry [that] has taken root around the country. [It] has proven to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity,” Murphy said.

The governor acknowledged in a radio appearance that cannabis legalization is still a controversial topic and offered a pragmatic approach to the issue.

“I don’t think any of us think it’s a no-brainer, and I don’t blame folks for not automatically getting there,” said Murphy. “But we’re not inventing marijuana. It exists. It’s in our communities. Our kids are exposed to it. The social injustices of the past exist. So if we can undo those social injustices, get the business out of the hands of the bad guys, protect our kids, regulate and tax it — and by the way generate some revenue and create a lot of jobs — that feels like the right combination. And if we don’t do it, there’s no good alternative to me.”

Bill Would Legalize Adult Use and Sales

The Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act would legalize the use and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and establish a framework to regulate and tax commercial cannabis activity. The bill also includes provisions for the expungement of criminal convictions for minor marijuana offenses. Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he “wasn’t far away” from the 21 votes needed to pass the bill and that Democratic leaders would be “talking to the Republicans pretty soon.”

Sweeney said that if legislators do not pass the bill this month, cannabis legalization might have to wait until after summer.

“It’s got to get done on March 25 or it’s not getting done until fall,” Sweeney said. “Trying to move a marijuana bill during a budget break is not healthy.”

Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for the Assembly Democratic caucus, said that the bill will only be scheduled for a vote next week if enough members have pledged their support for the measure.

“If we post that bill for a vote on March 25, it will pass,” McArdle said.

Legislative committees will also be considering two other cannabis bills on Monday. The Assembly Appropriations Committee will vote on Jake Honig’s Law, a measure to reform the state’s medical marijuana program. The bill would increase the amount of cannabis a patient is allowed to purchase, eliminate the sales tax on medical marijuana products by 2024, and legalize cannabis edibles. A third bill would streamline the process for the expungement of criminal offenses and establish a “clean slate” program that would allow those with a clean record for 10 years to have all eligible convictions erased.

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