Legislation to legalize recreational use of cannabis is finalized; here are details

A bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana was finalized by the governor and legislative leaders Wednesday night.

The 168-page bill, obtained by ROI-NJ, includes provisions for setting up the cannabis industry and social justice provisions — including expungement — to help those who have been prosecuted over the issue previously.

(Read a copy of the bill below.)

Bills — one will originate in both the state Senate and the Assembly — are expected to be taken up in the Legislature as soon as this week. They are expected to be voted on by the end of the month.

If the measure is signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, it is projected to net the state $60 million for Fiscal Year 2020, according to the governor’s budget proposal.

The legislation, worked on by Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis to be used in private homes — government-subsidized housing is still barred — and defined consumption establishments, which will include outdoor seating areas.

The bill sets up a taxable industry of growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors and retailers. A tax of $42 will be imposed on growers for each ounce of marijuana grown in the state.

Additional taxes will be seen at the local level, where municipalities will be given the authority to approve or decline the opening of cannabis businesses.

Municipalities that are home to a cultivator or manufacturer will charge a 2 percent tax on the product, municipalities that are home to a wholesaler will charge a 1 percent tax and municipalities that are home to retailers will charge a 3 percent tax on the products.

A five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, selected by the governor and Legislature, would provide oversight, including the processing of applications, issuing of licenses, overseeing tax revenue and compliance visits to various establishments.

The bill does not limit the number of businesses that can be opened, but it does give municipalities the ability to ban the sale of cannabis.

The legislation calls for the expungement of prior marijuana offenses, a key provision for many legislators and social justice reform advocates.

Because of the time and money that has been associated with expungement in the past, the bill calls for requests involving cannabis to be expedited within 45 days. Additionally, those applying can access legal assistance, which is also required of the state’s judicial system per the bill. The bill also calls for an electronic system to file for expungements to be set up within nine months of the bill becoming law.

The legislation includes many of the items in the original version of the bill, introduced in November, but also has some new language. Here are some of the highlights. The bill:

  • Makes it Illegal for anyone to purchase or use under the age of 21;
  • Calls for a study three years after implementation to study the effects of legalization;
  • Allows for various sizes and types of cannabis businesses, including microbusinesses;
  • Designates impact zones (areas where there has been a higher concentrate of marijuana possession and sales previously); people in those zones will be given priority for licenses and employment;
  • Ensures women, minorities and veterans get a proportional number of licenses.

The language in the bill focuses heavily on the regulation of the licenses, operations as well as the regulatory commission.

The bill:

  • Ensures members of the commission have no business interests that are benefited by the new industry;
  • Defines interests as ownership of more than 10 percent of profits or assets or more than 10 percent of the stock in a corporation in a professional services corporation; 1 percent of profits of a firm or 1 percent of stock of a corporation which holds or is an applicant for a casino license;
  • Sets requirements for labeling, but sets a minimum THC level (at 10 milligrams) for when a label is required;
  • Requires security outside any business establishment;
  • Ensures at least 25 percent of licenses issued are to owners of impact zones, or for employers who will employ at least 25 percent of their workforce from impact zones;
  • Establishes the parameters for delivery of cannabis, requiring each driver be a certified cannabis handler;
  • Allows medical marijuana centers to automatically qualify for recreational licenses without having to apply;
  • Bars employers of any business from discriminating against marijuana users or prior offenders as part of hiring decisions, but also establishes that the bill does not allow driving under the influence or underage use;
  • Bars lenders from discriminating against anyone with a prior marijuana offense for mortgage loans.

Read a copy of the bill: