Committee hearing represents next step for cannabis: ‘It’s now fine-tuning and deal-making’

Package of bills is headed to joint Senate and Assembly budget and appropriations panel Monday morning

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Nov 26, 2018 at 7:00 am

New Jersey lawmakers’ commitment to pass a series of recreational marijuana legalization and medical marijuana expansion bills has spurred interest both inside and outside the state for months.

The next hurdle comes Monday morning, in a joint Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on the package of bills.

The package of bills includes a 12 percent sales tax, a 2 percent excise tax for municipalities and expansion of medical marijuana — including reversal of the awarding of licenses solely to not-for-profit businesses — as well as addressing some of the basics of expungement of marijuana-related offenses.

Additional bills are expected.

Bill Caruso, the managing director at Archer Public Affairs and a leader in the drive to legalize cannabis in his role on the steering committee of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said the process is just getting started.

“What comes after that is going to be interesting,” he said. “It’s now fine-tuning and deal-making.”

Most important are the details of expungement of marijuana-related offenses and the revenue versus cost that municipalities need, according to Jill Ojserkis, chair of the Health Care Practice and a member of the Cannabis Practice at Cooper Levenson.

“I think it certainly is going to have the positive tax impact that we hope, and that’s contemplated in the governor’s budget. The fact that it is coming out now is a good thing, and hopefully it can be fast-tracked for approval,” Ojserkis said.

“To me, one of the concerns is the 2 percent to municipalities. Unless there is a ban that no cannabis-related business will be in a municipality, there is going to be a cost from the zoning, planning and rule-making component … and the social justice component. There is an expungement process that happens in the Superior Court; they will still go back and forth with the municipal courts. There’s going to be a lot of municipal costs in the beginning, so you wonder if that 2 percent is enough, but, then again, offset by the (removed) costs of arrest of possession.”

Meanwhile, the budding industry is ready for action, poised with the blueprints of other states that have legalized recreational use.

Within the state, companies that can lend their existing products to marijuana production and sales are already looking to get on the radar.

Take, for example, bakery display case makers.

Caruso said these are the types of tangential industries that will benefit from legalization.

“To some extent, the industry still developing,” he said. “Not just from purveyors, but also tangential business opportunities in New Jersey.”

And, although the state-level legislation is gaining momentum, Caruso said it’s the municipal level that will ultimately have the biggest impact on business and the industry, depending on how towns approve the developments.

“This is Jersey,” he said. “What most people don’t understand about Jersey is there is a local flavor to everything. “

Despite the proposed 12 percent sales tax, which is already higher than other states’, Caruso said there seems to still be interest in the new market.

“The buzz about New Jersey is palpable,” he said. “People want into this market.”

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Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem