New Jersey lawmakers may vote to legalize recreational marijuana for adults today, but observers say it’s too close to call the outcome in advance.
Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders have come to an agreement that is likely to result in marijuana legalization, but there’s a lot more to the legislation than meets the eye.
“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” said Murphy, who promised to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in New Jersey as part of his 2017 campaign. “After months of hard work and thoughtful negotiations, I’m thrilled to announce an agreement with my partners in the Legislature on the broad outlines of adult-use marijuana legislation.”
Oscar-winning actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg, who lives in West Orange, called New Jersey state lawmakers ahead of Monday’s highly anticipated vote to urge them to support the bill to legalize recreational marijuana.
“I am known as an outspoken proponent for legalization, a position that stems from the fact that I have been a marijuana user since my youth, when I discovered it was the only medicine that could relieve my crippling menstrual cramps without crippling the rest of my life,” wrote Goldberg, in an op-ed published Friday in USA Today.
Democratic leaders believe there are up to 17 state senators voting for the bill Monday, but the legislation needs 21 votes to pass in the upper chamber and 41 to get through the Assembly.
Sources say Murphy has “burned up” the phones, but the governor has managed to convert only state Sen. Nicholas Sacco from “no” to “yes” on the issue, which was a key plank in the former Goldman Sachs executive’s 2017 campaign platform.
Still among those Democratic senators who may be voting against the legislation are Nia Gill, Richard Codey, Ronald Rice, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Bob Andrzejczak, James Beach, and Fred Madden.
Senator Dawn Addiego, who recently flipped from the Republican Party to become a Democrat, remains opposed to marijuana legalization.
New Jersey residents who are 21 and over would be allowed to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and it could be used in their private homes.
Retailers would be able to apply for a consumption space, but marijuana would not be allowed in government-subsidized housing.
Employers would be able to discriminate against marijuana users by denying a job or even firing workers from a job, if they test positive for marijuana, under a provision insisted upon by Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Local communities could even prevent a marijuana business from opening in their town or they may ban the sale of cannabis.
Growers would pay a tax of $42 per ounce, but it is unclear how much users
would pay to buy pot, although New Jersey would possibly have the lowest marijuana tax in the country: 10 percent.
Provisions in the bill establish an expedited expungement process for people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses but related offenses may not be removed from a criminal record. It would still be illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana.
A five member Cannabis Regulatory Commission will make the rules to govern the industry, personal use and medical marijuana, as well as oversee applications for licensing of dispensaries.
The Monmouth University Poll found an increase in the number of New Jerseyans who say legalization will help the state’s economy and lead to a drop in other drug crimes, 6 in 10 residents support making pot legal, and three-quarters would let people with past possession convictions to expunge their records.
Most New Jersey adults (62%) support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use while 32% oppose it.
Among those who say this legalization proposal is a good idea, 40% cite increased tax revenue and economic gains as a key reason for their support. Another 28% say prosecuting marijuana possession and jailing users wastes resources, 21% say that marijuana use is not harmful or at least no more so than alcohol and 14% cite medical benefits to using marijuana. Other reasons why people think it is a good idea include the idea that legalizing marijuana will provide more control over its use (14%), that there’s no way to stop its use anyway so it might as well be made legal (8%), and the fact that other states are already legalizing it (5%).
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