Photo Credit: MARC SCHWARZ
The State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved an adult-use cannabis bill Monday after a standing-room-only hearing that lasted nearly five hours and featured a back-and-forth between pro- and anti-marijuana testimony.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act (S2703/A4497) passed on a 7-4 vote with two abstentions by the Senate committee and 7-2 vote with one abstention by the Assembly committee.
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The medical marijuana program expansion bills, S10 and S2426, were combined and passed on a 12-1- vote by the Senate committee.
Bill S3205, which revises procedures for expungement of records of conviction, passed on a 9-3 vote with one abstention by the Senate committee.
The first possible date for votes by the full Senate and Assembly is Dec. 17.
After the hearings, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he needs Governor Murphy’s support. “Until we can come to an agreement, we can’t send a bill to him,” Sweeney said.
The joint committee hearing, which began at 11 a.m., an hour later then posted, opened with legalization bill co-sponsor Sen. Nicholas Scutari.
“It’s going to stimulate the economy of New Jersey like nothing ever has before — an entire new industry that people can actually start from the ground level up,” Scutari said. “We’re on the precipice of a historic event here, starting something and creating jobs like not other legislature has done before. We have that opportunity.”
Those testifying in favor of legalization focused on the failures of prohibition, arrest rates of those in communities of color, the need for safe and regulated use of a product that is currently only available illegally.
Those against focused on marijuana as a gateway drug, fears of increased traffic fatalities by impaired drivers, the challenges faced by law enforcement and the harm marijuana can cause to kids.
Sen. Ronald Rice called the bill a “slap in the face to people of color.”
“No one is actually going out to talk to the daycare and pre-school parents. The people [in the Statehouse] are the people who have been talking over and over and over again,” Rice said. “The endgame of the legalization of recreational marijuana is making more money for white investors.”
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, opened the hearing with some perspective: “We stand on the verge a major change here in New Jersey. It’s been a long road but today we’re on the verge of something very significant, and it’s not something that’s been done haplessly or recklessly. As we go through this bill, there’s a great deal of thought reflected.”
Earlier in the day, the medical marijuana expansion bill (S10) passed the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, 7-1 and the Assembly approved it, 10-0 with one abstention. The measure will be named “Jake’s Law” after Jake Honig of Howell, a 7-year-old boy who died from brain cancer in January.
The bill raises the amount patients are permitted to buy every month from 2 ounces to 2.5 ounces from January to July 2019 and then 3 ounces beginning in August. There will be no limit for those in hospice care or diagnosed with a terminally disease. It also phases out the 6.625 percent sales tax over five years and provides job protection for patients “unless an employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the lawful use of medical cannabis has impaired the employee’s ability to perform the employee’s job responsibilities.”