By Olivia Hartman | Policy Analyst (Margolin & Lawrence)
A green wave spread across the U.S. following the excitement from the 2020 election. South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, and New Jersey all legalized the recreational use of marijuana; however, specific legal language in its legislation is yet to be decided on. While politics have kept the country divided through campaigning, it seems that cannabis was the true winner of the election this year.
Legalizing marijuana is not only serves as a means to reboot the economy or create more access to regulated weed but it also serves to right the wrongs of the drug war. In other words, ending arrests and creating a new revenue source to boost programs in minority communities. Each state is subject to prioritizing some of these aspects over others. After a stall in passing legislation in New Jersey, it’s apparent that lawmakers are prioritizing a more justice-oriented goal.
New Jersey passed Senate Bill 21 titled “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act” and is set to regulate and enforce activities associated with the personal use, by persons 21 years of age or older, of legal cannabis or cannabis resin by January 1, 2021 (distinguishing the legalized products from unlawful marijuana or hashish). Lawmakers were set on agreeing upon a cohesive bill in less than 40 days. Their original plan of pushing for a 10 day turn around for the bill has proven to be distant and impossible.
The bill’s language has not changed much from when it was first drafted over a year ago when it was first turned down by the Senate. Although the bill was passed by the Senate this time around, and even made it through the first round of hearings, lawmakers have made their qualms with the bill known quietly.
So why has the bill for legalized recreational marijuana in New Jersey continuously been stalled? Besides the general sluggish nature of bureaucratic processes, there are a few reasons. For starters, lawmakers said they wanted to see the bill specifically address those issues and potentially establish a new tax on cannabis cultivators to get more funds from the marijuana industry than the 6.625% sales tax alone. Currently, the bill directs sales tax revenue to the regulatory commission. But so far, revenue is only earmarked for training police officers on how to become Drug Recognition Experts, and into the state’s general fund. Essentially, in trying to target social justice concerns by revamping the bill it has made the legislative process of passing the bill that much more complicated.
Critics of the bill are worried that it doesn’t go deep enough, as it lacks meaningful expungement reform on the criminal justice side of legislation. The senator said the new, revamped senate version bill would dedicate monies for educational support, literacy programs, extended learning time programs, GED preparedness, tutoring, vocational, financial literacy, economic development, legal aid, social support services, food assistance, mental health treatment, youth recreation, and low interest loans for minority and women’s business development.
A proposed new measure, however, might speed the process along as the proposal would clarify penalties contained in two separate bills already passed by the legislature that have already made it to Murphy’s desk: a measure to establish a regulatory framework for the state’s new marijuana market and another to decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis. Murphy previously stated that he would not sign the bill until there are noncriminal penalties for those under 21.
Under the new bill, A5211, people between the ages of 18 and 20 would be subject to a $250 civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, regardless of whether the cannabis was obtained through a licensed store or an illegal dealer. Possessing between one and six ounces would carry a $500 fine. People under 18 will not be fined but will be sent to a juvenile justice court instead. While complete language of the bill is still not available, lawmakers believe that we are on the brink of ironing out all of the
As more changes are made, more complications arise. State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) is particularly concerned with employer protection and the new ability for employees to become targets of their employers and suspected of doing drugs on the job. Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22), who authored the original bill, is still confident that regardless of the nitpicking refinements marijuana will in fact be legal in January.
Arizona, on the other hand, proved to be far less nit-picky as they are prepared to launch their recreational marijuana program in March of 2021. On November 3,2020, Arizona voters passed Prop 207, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act (SSAA), by 60% to 40% legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana in the state for adults 21 and older. In fact, the medical marijuana market is already slowing down as customers are migrating to an adult-use market that typically has fewer restrictions and less bureaucratic paperwork. A similar effect was seen in California and Colorado when they launched their recreational programs. Similar to what New Jersey had promised and intended, Arizona’s Department of Health Services actually released the first draft of recreational program rules back in December.
Meanwhile in New York, Governor Cuomo has kept voters and marijuana supporters on their toes. For three consecutive annual State of the State Address, Cuomo has announced his plans to legalize and regulate recreational weed. Lawmakers are optimistic this year with the push from neighboring state New Jersey and the major $15 billion deficit resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. Cuomo called for the “formation of an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee both the new program and the state’s already existing medical marijuana one.” This includes a social equity program that provides licensing opportunities for individuals in communities that have been unfairly affected by drug law enforcement. An additional note of enthusiasm: the mayor’s office predicts that with Democratic controlling both chambers in Albany, there’s a strong chance the bill to legalize recreational in New York will finally pass.
For more information about this post, contact Margolin & Lawrence.