New Jersey’s governor and legislature agreed to terms earlier this month to allow S830 to move forward, the bill that would legalize marijuana for adults and create a regulated marketplace in the state.
New Jersey’s legislature has been considering legalizing cannabis for the last four years. Last month, the ball got rolling again when State Sen. Nicholas Scutari filed S830, which has brought new hope to the state’s citizens — especially after reports emerged on Feb. 15 that the state’s Gov. Phil Murphy had reached a deal with legislators about how the industry should be regulated.
Scutari joined CBS2 last week to give the rundown on where things are at a month after filing the bill, following the big deal with the governor reported around Valentine’s Day.
One of the first things Scutari noted was the tax structure. As opposed to a tax that works as a percentage of gross sales, which most states with legal cannabis use, New Jersey is looking to tax cannabis by weight.
“There will be a $42 excise tax on every ounce that is sold, regardless of price,” Scutari told CBS2. “There will be a three-year look-back in case we need to reevaluate that because it is a possibility that the price goes down so low that $42 becomes unmanageably high.”
Another part of the deal with Murphy was increasing the executive branch’s authority over the market place. Scutari said a five-person oversight commission — formed to set prices and regulations — would include three direct appointments from the governor. They’ll be taking a look down the road to make sure taxes are still at the right level. If the price of an ounce drops below $100 in Jersey, you’re looking at a gross tax rate that would likely send people back to the illicit market, as has happened in other places.
Many advocates are psyched for legal weed in New Jersey but hope the patients aren’t getting left behind in backroom dealings between lawmakers.
“I think a flat tax is a reasonable solution as long as there’s an exclusion for social programs, such as low-income discount programs,” New Jersey NORML Executive Director Evan Nison told Cannabis Now. “Flat taxes have prevented dispensaries from continuing these types of programs in other states, but other than that it would have my support.”
However, even if the bill passes through New Jersey’s state house quickly, it is unlikely that the new program be implemented in 2019. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said that it’s likely legal cannabis sales won’t start until at least 2020.
New Jersey’s Path to Cannabis Legalization
It’s important to understand the history of the idea of legal marijuana in New Jersey. Few places exemplify the American renaissance on cannabis quite like New Jersey, given how far the state has come since the days of New Jersey’s former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was one of the great anti-pot champions of the last decade, despite the changing public opinion in favor of the plant.
One time in 2014, a radio caller to NJ 101.5 asked Christie about legalization, citing the revenue places like California and Colorado were bringing to their coffers. “Let me just stop you right there,” Christie replied. “You say it’s going to come down the road. You know when it may come down the road? When I’m gone. Because it’s not going to come when I’m here.”
Christie was ready to go with talking points he read from a study, noting the impacts of marijuana on motivation and emotion centers in the brain. He said he wouldn’t be the governor that would tell children and young adults that marijuana use was OK.
“I don’t care about the tax money that may come from it, I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable. It’s not inevitable,” said a grimacing Christie. “I’m not going to permit it, never. As long as I’m governor. You want to elect somebody else who is willing to legalize marijuana and expose our children to that gateway drug and the effects it has on the brain? You’ll have to live with yourself if you do that, and it’s not going to be this governor who does it.”
But the residents of New Jersey proved very prepared to live with themselves, as 1.2 million came out to vote for Phil Murphy in 2016. As governor-elect in November 2017, he explained his thought process on why he personally wanted to legalize marijuana, while addressing the concerns of some state senators around law enforcement training and general NIMBYism about dispensaries.
“Well listen, there is a visceral reaction to this, and by the way, when I first thought about it, I had a visceral reaction to it. I got four kids, one of whom is here,” Murphy told reporters from NJ.com, noting his oldest was 20 and the rest were teenagers. “So this is not something you get to lightly.”
Murphy said, first and foremost, this was a social justice issue, and that New Jersey’s gap between arrests of white and black people was largest in America. He also noted it wasn’t the only reason, but a big reason was to end low-end drug crimes. “And we have to fess up to that,” said Murphy.
Murphy was also glad the Jersey market would benefit from watching other states go first.
“We spend an enormous amount of time trying to study things that didn’t go right in places like Colorado, Nevada, Oregon… we want to get this right,” he said. “So, to folks who are saying, ‘I don’t want this done improperly,’ neither do we.”
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