Marijuana aficionados in New Jersey were eagerly awaiting the cannabis legalization bill which ultimately took shape on last Monday night. Governor Phil Murphy along with two other eminent lawmakers, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney took the call of legalizing the adult-use of cannabis in New Jersey.
The decision was announced to general public by the democratic trio through a joint statement on Tuesday. This took shape after closed door negations which were held for about a year. Tuesday’s announcement is the very first time when democratic leaders came together to talk about this issue. Although we are not sure about the quantum of votes in the Democrat-controlled Legislature which can help with passing the bill, this surely stands out as the first step taken towards the same.
Social Justice Victory For Murphy
Murphy carried out extensive campaigning in 2017 for legalizing the usage of recreational cannabis. He added that, “Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system.”
Once the bill receives sanction and turns into a law, New Jersey will join hands with the District of Columbia and ten other states who have already shown a green signal to legalized usage of cannabis amongst adults. This can also lure in a large number of visitors from the neighbouring states which are in the pipeline of cannabis legalization.
The New Jersey leaders are also hopeful about mass expungement of people who have been convicted for committing low-level marijuana crimes. This can also bar various petty offenses from being considered in sectors like housing, education and job licensing. The cannabis legalization drive is also expected to garner support from women and minority segment.
People over 21 years of age will be able to legally smoke cannabis in New Jersey by September provided the bill passes in March itself. Murphy exclaimed on Tuesday morning that he feels that the retail sales would start from “early next year.” The existing medical marijuana alternative treatment centres can open their counter for general public by then but only after securing adequate stock for their patients. Recreational dispensaries will be opened strictly after September.
The earlier versions of legislation had advocated the levy of escalating sales tax on marijuana. However, the current proposals seek out the levy of just $42 tax on every ounce of the same. The tax revenue can be collected by the town itself. While cannabis retailers and municipalities can collect 3% tax, those with wholesalers can claim 1% tax and those with cultivators will get 2%.
Such measures might require the backing of a regulatory commission comprising of five members. Three members amongst them shall be appointed by the governor while the remaining two will be picked as per recommendations given by the Assembly speaker and Senate president.
Contradictions & Differentiated Opinions
Certain Republicans have showcased grievance over the matter of cannabis legalization. Former GOP Governor Chris Christie had previously criticised this entire campaign as he felt that it would traffic accidents under the veil of increasing the state’s tax revenues.
The same sentiment was also shared by Republican state Sen. Gerald Cardinale. He exclaimed, “That blood money that he’s going to collect in taxes that is blood money. It is going to come from the blood of people who don’t use marijuana who unfortunately are involved with people who do.”
With various viewpoints existing on this matter, the final decision can swing either in favour of or against cannabis legalization in New Jersey. However, one thing is certain and that is the immense number of votes which Governor Phil Murphy shall require for gaining the Senate’s nod. A committee is being formed to vote on the deal this Monday which is most likely to be followed by a floor vote on March 25.
If nothing is done within the coming few weeks, then this whole legalization agenda shall get bogged down in the state budget negotiations just like last year. State lawmakers have until 30th June to pass the budget. Thus, Murphy has to get the bill signed latest by May if he wants an immediate result. If legal weed smoking doesn’t get the approval within the budget deadline, then the ultimate call shall have to be taken by voters at the ballot during November. If the legalization takes place after summer, then the residents of New Jersey shall have to wait till 2020 for smoking weed legally.