Will Legal Weed Come To New Jersey? What To Know About The Latest Proposal

Photo Credit: Andre Malok

Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday said he remains fully committed to legalizing recreational marijuana and pledged to get it done by the end of 2018.

The governor doesn’t yet have enough support in Trenton, but with two prominent proposals now on the table, lawmakers will soon start their work on weed.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, whose plan hit the Senate in January, wants to allow adults in New Jersey to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. His plan also calls for commercial pot growers and sellers, and a government department tasked with regulating the industry.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, last week took that plan a step further by introducing his own version of the bill. While the basics of the two bills are similar, they diverge in several key areas. As the debate over marijuana legalization commences, these are the issues lawmakers will be wrangling over.

1. You could grow weed at home

Of the nine states that have legalized recreational weed, plus Washington D.C., only Washington state does not allow people to grow the plant at home. New Jersey could be the next to allow it.

Gusciora’s plan would allow adults to grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature at any given time, as long as they are grown in a private, enclosed space. Scutari’s bill doesn’t allow home-grow, but the senator has told NJ Advance Media that he doesn’t personally have an issue with it.

Some of the states that allow home-grow have run into problems. Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, is among those who oppose home-grow. Bommer said that Colorado has struggled to keep home-grown marijuana off the black market.

2. There could be hundreds of pot shops

If Gusciora’s bill were to pass, there could be more than 400 dispensaries spread across the state. The plan allows as many as 10 shops in each of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts, plus one additional retail location for the six existing medicinal marijuana dispensaries.

That proposal is a major increase from a previous draft of the bill, which called for 80 dispensaries. Experts widely criticized that plan, saying 80 wouldn’t come close to meeting demand.

Scutari’s bill did not establish a ceiling on the number of pot shops, calling on regulators to set a cap.

3. The state would get less tax revenue

Early projections estimate that New Jersey’s recreational marijuana market could generate $1 billion per year in revenue. But how much of that the state sees is up to the tax rate.

Scutari’s bill has the tax rate rising to 25 percent after several years, meaning the state would see $250 million on $1 billion in marijuana revenue.

Gusciora’s bill ultimately would set the tax at 15 percent, which would result in $150 million in tax revenue for the state.

4. Fewer businesses would be involved

While there would be plenty of opportunities for people to open dispensaries, other businesses would be limited under Gusciora’s plan, which only has three marijuana business classifications. They are producer-processors, retailers and transporters.

The bill calls for 15 producer-processor licenses, increasing to 25 after two years; 80 transporter licenses; and up to 400 retailer licenses.

States like Oregon have separate producer and processor licenses, and many more available licenses, meaning smaller companies can participate in the industry.

5. But minority-owned businesses would get a boost

Murphy repeated Tuesday that his main reason for wanting to legalize marijuana is to bring social justice to those negatively affected by existing marijuana laws. Gusciora’s plan tries to do that in two ways: allowing people to expunge marijuana possession convictions and letting minority communities get a piece of the industry.

The new bill requires that at least 15 percent of producer-processor and retailer licenses are issued to minority-, women- or veteran-owned businesses.

6. The first shops could open sooner

The bill would create the Division of Marijuana Enforcement and give the division 18 months to establish the rules and regulations of a recreational marijuana industry. But New Jersey could see recreational marijuana sales sooner than that.

The six existing medical marijuana businesses in the state would be automatically eligible for both a producer-processor license and a retail license, as long as the recreational operation was established as a separate entity from the medical marijuana business.

The medical marijuana organizations that were to apply for recreational licenses would get licensed within six months, likely beating the other businesses to market by a year.

Where weed stands now

With the introduction of Gusciora’s bill, state lawmakers now have two different plans for marijuana legalization to consider.

Scutari’s bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, seeing little action since it was introduced in January. The Gusciora bill is in the Assembly’s oversight committee, which held a general hearing on marijuana legalization last week.

An exact timeline on marijuana is unclear at this point, but with Murphy pushing for legislation by the end of the year, the debate is likely to heat up in the coming months.

Scutari said he expects to work with Gusciora to reconcile the plans and present something to Murphy in the coming months.