Marijuana legislation is unlikely to be voted on by the New Jersey Senate and Assembly on Dec. 17, the last scheduled voting day of the year.
The clearest public sign came Friday when Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin would not commit to bringing a vote on the adult-use bill to the floor before the end of the year during a panel discussion at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s Public Policy Forum in New Brunswick.
That aligns with what is being said privately.
Two insiders with knowledge of the process told NJ Cannabis Media in essence the same thing: There appears to be too much work on key sticking points in the bills, particularly the adult-use legalization, and no clear-cut consensus that the bill will pass.
That work falls into two categories: 1. Issues with the details of the bill that have to be ironed out and 2. the politics of the bill.
The primary obstacle appears to be the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the proposed five-person body that will basically oversee all aspects of the cannabis industry in New Jersey.
The issue is power: How much and who has it?
It’s a battle between the legislature and Governor Phil Murphy as well as the intricacies of creating a bureaucracy.
A hint of the importance of the issue came Friday, when Senate President Stephen Sweeney, sitting on the same panel as Coughlin, said that there will be a Cannabis Commission, possibly permanently.
Taxation is the other key issue.
Sweeney has been adamant in wanting to keep the rate as low as possible as a way to if not eliminate, certainly degrade the size of the black market.
Municipalities want more than the 2 percent cap per transaction that is currently in the bill. There is wiggle room, according to industry insiders. Options include raising the rate of transactions between grow facilities and processors, which would provide more revenue than transactions at retail dispensaries with consumers. There is also a general consensus that towns will bear additional costs for law enforcement and the to-be-determined expungement process, particularly in the initial rollout of the legislation.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop addressed the issue on Twitter Monday following a meeting in Trenton that included Coughlin, Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bhalla, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and League of Municipalities President Colleen Mahr, the mayor of Fanwood.
“We need changes to the marijuana legalization legislation. The draft today results in 90% of ppl that need marijuana expungements not eligible for expungement. We can’t support that. Secondly, cities are only eligible for 2% of tax yet have most of the costs for implementation
X-factors are how the hearings and ongoing investigation into sexual assault accusations against former Murphy campaign staffer and administration official Al Alvarez, the concurrent push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill and the reported January departure of Murphy’s Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano.
There is still cautious optimism that the issues can be resolved for a vote in early 2019 – either January or February.
Sweeney is a proponent of the legislation, which was also one of Murphy’s campaign issues.
On Friday, he pushed once again for a regulated industry, saying, “We can create 43,000 jobs in NJ alone with marijuana legalization.”
And Coughlin added, “You’re either for legalizing marijuana and entering the market or you’re accepting the status quo.”