Updated on December 6, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The newly elected governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, and his fellow Democrats introduced legislation on January 9, 2018 — the same day Murphy convened — that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis by anyone 21 or older. The new governor says he based his proposed measure partially on financial research that suggests recreational use could bring in nearly $300 million for the state, which already has a flourishing medical marijuana program.
In November, Murphy won his campaign for governor of New Jersey, likely on his promise to legalize recreational cannabis for the Garden State. To no surprise, former Republican governor Chris Christie greeted the plan with opposition, referring to any financial gain the state earns from the sale of marijuana as “blood money.”
Despite this — along with the recent move by the Justice Department to overturn Obama’s guidelines that the federal government should not interfere with the states’ legislation on cannabis — Murphy says the state of New Jersey still plans to move forward on legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He has also certified he will sign any bill legalizing recreational weed that can make it through the state legislature.
New Jersey’s Proposed Recreational Marijuana Bill: The Details
Two parties, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, and state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, are planning to propose bills. While their suggestions have their differences, the passing of either bill would:
Initiate a recreational cannabis program in the state of New Jersey
Legalize the possession of as much as one ounce of cannabis, 16 ounces of products infused with marijuana, 72 ounces of cannabis in liquid form and seven grams of cannabis concentrates — for anyone 21 years or older
Introduce a Division of Marijuana Enforcement within New Jersey’s Department of Law and Public Safety, which would be responsible for setting up regulations and licensing programs for potential distributors and growers within one year
Initiate an “escalating” sales tax on marijuana, which varies between the two plans
Immediately decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana
Limit possession fines to $100 until the state develops a more detailed system for cannabis offenders
Develop a system allowing people convicted of minor cannabis crimes to expunge their records
Continue to ban public marijuana use
So, what are the differences in the two plans? They include:
Growing Your Own: While Gusciora’s bill would allow residents to grow up to six of their own cannabis plants at home — but only three can be mature, or producing weed, at once — Scutari has said he thinks it’s too big of a jump to make in the first bill. His program would still prohibit home growing.
Number of Businesses: Scutari’s bill doesn’t have a specific limit on how many cannabis businesses could operate in New Jersey — only a requirement that each county must have at least one dispensary. Gusciora’s, however, sets a limit of 80 dispensaries in the state and only 15 growers for the first year, increasing to 25 in the second year.
The Tax Rate: Scutari’s plan will start at seven percent during the program’s pilot year, increase to 10 percent for the second year and then continue to rise by five percent each year until reaching an ultimate rate of 25 percent. Gusciora suggests a lower tax that starts at seven percent for the first year and increases to 15 percent for the fifth year and beyond.
The Timing: While the roll-out of either program would take a while, Scutari’s bill specifies that regulators have a year after the bill is signed to designate specific rules. He also allows an additional year for the state to start issuing licenses, so it will take at least two years for sales to be made. Gusciora’s bill gives regulators even longer — 18 months to set regulations and another year to designate business licenses.
However, going off the last note on timing, a provision could allow the state’s existing medical dispensaries to open a strictly recreational facility — since medical dispensaries will not be allowed to sell to the public — 90 days after Murphy signs the bill.
New Jersey to Legalize Marijuana: What This Means for Residents
For residents of New Jersey — and potentially for visitors, as well, depending on the specifics of the proposed bill — this means anyone who is at least 21 years of age will be able to purchase marijuana legally after the complete roll-out of the program.
As previously noted, there are limitations to the amount of cannabis one person can possess. While the state has yet to develop an official system for violators of this stipulation, it’s safe to say punishments for these acts will be a bit more lenient — or at least will include less severe warnings — with the initiation of the new program.
New Jersey to Legalize Marijuana: What This Means for the Country’s Cannabis Landscape
Currently, eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia have developed legal recreational marijuana programs, and it’s looking like both New Jersey and Vermont will be joining that list soon. Vermont’s legislature gave its final approval on a measure legalizing cannabis earlier this month, and Governor Phil Scott has made indications that he plans on signing it.
As more and more state governments realize the benefits marijuana has both medically and recreationally, the federal government may start to feel more pressure to allow for more research to be done on the plant.
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