Push For Legal Weed In N.J. Will Be Met With New Legislative Proposals

Photo Credit: Gabrielle Lurie

A New Jersey assemblywoman will propose three bills aimed at social justice and economic opportunities should the Garden State legalize recreational cannabis, NJ Advance Media has learned.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), the chairwoman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and deputy majority leader, plans to introduce her bills Monday.

The bills will focus on the expungement of cannabis possession convictions, creating a tax credit program for cannabis businesses in urban enterprise zones and establishing an advisory board focused on recommendations for drug-sniffing dogs in the event of the legalization of cannabis.

“If we are going to allow the possession and use of marijuana in this state, then it is incumbent upon us to clear the records of all those who have been found guilty in the past,” Quijano said. “Clearing the records of these individuals will allow them to access federal higher education loans, affordable housing programs and greater employment opportunities.”

Quijano, a municipal prosecutor, was among the New Jersey legislators who visited Las Vegas last month as part of a fact-finding trip focused on the cannabis industry.

Among the many recommendations received by legislators in Nevada was the need for removing the criminal stigma from those who had been convicted of cannabis possession pre-legalization, the need for equal economic opportunities and the need to train a new generation of drug-sniffing dogs who do not provide an affirmative response to the presence of cannabis.

Unlike traditional businesses, leaf-touching businesses in the cannabis sector typically can’t receive financing from banks, so many rely on private investors — which often restricts access to the market by less affluent and minority operators.

Moreover, leaf-touching businesses are prohibited from deducting their business expenses due to 280E of the Internal Revenue Service code, which forbids businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary businesses from gross income associated with the trafficking of Schedule I or II substances.

With that in mind, the bill aims to create a five-year pilot program, known as the “New Jersey Green Development and Growth Program,” permitting a qualifying business in an urban enterprise zone to claim credits against the business’ gross income tax liability or credits against the business’ corporation business tax liability.

“This economic development incentive will encourage and reward this new industry to plant its roots in communities that would benefit from its positive economic impact through new jobs and increased local tax revenue.”

Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which, according to the federal government, means it has no accepted medical value — despite numerous studies showing medical applications and the development of medical cannabis programs in a majority of states in the U.S.

By comparison, drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and OxyContin are listed as Schedule II drugs, which have some accepted medical uses.

“We appreciate Assemblywoman Quijano for looking through a justice lens at ways to repair the damage from unjust marijuana laws,” said ACLU of New Jersey executive director Amol Sinha. “The communities harmed by the war on marijuana need opportunities to benefit economically from legalization, and the people harmed by unjust arrests must be able to expunge their records easily and painlessly.

We cannot have legalization without addressing the lasting impact of prohibition, and we’re glad to see proposals coming out of Trenton that prioritize our shared value of justice.”

Quijano’s package of bills join legislation previously introduced by Sens. Nick Scutari, D-Union, Ronald Rice, D-Essex, Robert Singer, R-Monmouth and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer.

Gusciora and Scutari’s proposals for legalization are somewhat similar, but Gusciora’s pushes to legalize home-growing. Despite their differences, Scutari and Gusciora both told NJ Cannabis Insider they will work together moving forward.

Rice and Singer introduced separate legislation last month to strip away criminal penalties for some possession.

Legislation to legalize recreational marijuana has been a priority for Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office in January.