On November 26, members of a joint committee of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted to approve the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization (CREAM) Act. The vote moves the bill out of committee with a recommendation for legislative approval—a first in the state.
As the title indicates, the bill uses the word “cannabis” rather than “marijuana.” In addition to containing expedited expungement provisions, the bill also addresses minority entrepreneurship, economic impact zones, delivery, on-site use at dispensaries, microbusinesses, and union membership for cannabis workers.
The bill is the result of many months of private and public debate, which included righting the wrongs of the drug war and disparate enforcement of marijuana law against minorities. For Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union), for example, expungement was an indispensable part of legalization: “An opportunity for a clean slate for someone who has committed minor offenses is the best thing we can do to enable them to seize the opportunities life presents them,” Holley said. “Moving this bill alongside legislation concerning the legalization of cannabis is critically important to correcting the wrongs of the past as we now look forward to the future of marijuana use in New Jersey. Expanding definitions, and creating a process for residents to clear their name and their record had to be a part of, a critical part of, cannabis regulation.”
Holley is the chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored the bill, expressed optimism that it would reach the governor’s desk. Scutari was behind the medical cannabis bill that passed in 2009. Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, made a campaign promise to support legalization and work with the legislature should it approve a recreational cannabis bill. His support stood in contrast to the steady opposition of former governor Chris Christie to legalization.
The bill provides that possession of an ounce or less by those 21 and older would be legal. It “would impose a State-level tax at the rate of 5.375 percent on the retail sale of cannabis items. This tax would be imposed in addition to the State sales and use tax.” In addition, the bill provides for the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission of “five, full-time members,” with the executive director appointed by the governor, with senate oversight. Furthermore, the bill would:
- Fast-track an expedited expungement system.
- Allow for cannabis delivery.
- Allow on-site consumption at dispensaries.
- Create an Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Cannabis Business Development and give it a goal of 30 percent participation in new business creation.
- Set aside 10 percent of licenses to microbusinesses.
- Give incentives to businesses sited in economic impact zones, “for which past criminal marijuana enterprises contributed to higher concentrations of law enforcement activity, unemployment, and poverty.”
- Create four types of license: wholesaler, processor, retailer, and grower/cultivator. A business may have more than one license.
- Require businesses to hire union members (microbusinesses excepted).
The bill is not without opponents in the legislature. For example, NJ Spotlight quotes Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) as saying: “our challenge is to educate our colleagues and our constituents on the risks of legalization and shed light on the certain unintended consequences it will have on our children and our culture.” In addition, employers have expressed concern that legalization must not deprive them of the right to fire workers who use cannabis at work or come to work under the influence.
Debate on such issues will continue on the floor of the assembly and senate, and the bill may be amended before passage. With the support of the governor and legislative leaders, however, it seems likely that New Jersey’s recreational cannabis bill will become law.
What do you think? Will the recreational cannabis bill become law? Leave a comment below.