On Monday, the last scheduled voting session of the year, the State Senate and Assembly did not vote on the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act (S2703/A4497), the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (S10/2426/A10/A3470/A3473) and S3205/A4498 which revises certain procedures for expungement of records of conviction.
The lack of a vote was sealed last week when Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steven Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin finally sat down Thursday to discuss the bills – along with other pending legislation, including a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill – but did not come to a final agreement.
“We’re all very pleased, we made significant progress, I think we’re all optimistic,” Coughlin told reporters after the meeting. “There’s a few remaining issues to be worked through and we’re committed to getting that to achieve a compromise.”
There is hope that the bills could be put to a vote in January or February.
“We really had our first significant conversation today on it,” Sweeney said. “I wouldn’t classify anything today as negative. We had a pretty healthy conversation.”
There are three primary issues that still need to be resolved.
Tax rate. Sweeney has been emphatic about it not being more than 12 percent plus a 2 percent cap for municipalities. Murphy has reportedly wanted a higher rate – escalating up to 25 percent. And municipalities have been pushing for 5 percent. It’s unclear how much any of the sides are willing to compromise.
Cannabis Regulatory Commission. S2703 calls for the creation of a full-time five-person commission to create and oversee the rules and regulations for the industry. This has emerged as the most contentious issue with the governor and Sweeney battling over who controls the appointees and the power of the commission. Sweeney has been very public in the past week with his stance, calling the commission “non-negotiable.” adding, ““You’re creating a brand new industry and there’s going to be a lot of regulation that has to put in place to move forward.” In addition, the Senate Democrats’ Twitter account has been echoing that point, “The independence of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, as proposed in the Adult-Use Act is necessary to ensure the stability of the market. The commission would be able to grant new licenses as needed and maintain a healthy balance between supply and demand in the state.”
Expungement: Issues with S3205 have emerged recently, according to a NJTV report. Social justice has been the primary motivator for Murphy and the issue of expungement is key, specifically what and who is covered. The bill calls for expungement for those with criminal convictions of an ounce or less of marijuana, but does not apply to small-time dealers. “I want to make sure that this bill will be fair for all, not just a subset of people,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. “We want to make sure that the guy who was selling — and nine time out of 10 he was selling because he was trying to make ends meet, maybe he’s trying to help put food on the table for his kids or help his mom pay rent — now he will still be in jail. Whereas that same corner, someone who wants to smoke marijuana, they can go and buy it legally.” Mayors of urban cities, including Jersey City and Newark also want to see the bill cover more people.