Success of Medical Program Prompts Newfound Optimism for Recreational Cannabis in New Jersey

New Jersey State Line

FLICKR/MATT HINTSA

Despite the previously held belief that adult use recreational marijuana in New Jersey would have to await a ballot referendum in 2020, there is newfound optimism that a vote on legal cannabis may yet take place this year.  Certain New Jersey lobbyists and industry leaders believe that the success of medical marijuana in New Jersey may prompt a vote on recreational adult use marijuana.  Earlier this year, a recreational adult use marijuana bill cosponsored by Senators Nicholas Scutari and Steven Sweeney was pulled from a vote at the eleventh hour when legislative leadership determined that there were insufficient votes to get the bill passed.  Thus, recreational cannabis in New Jersey will depend on two questions: 1) will a vote take place; and 2) if a vote takes place, will there be enough votes to get the law passed?

This blog will monitor all potential developments in the push for adult use recreational marijuana in New Jersey.

Voters to Decide Fate of Legalized Cannabis in New Jersey

New Jersey State Line

FLICKR/MATT HINTSA

Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced that the legislature is no longer pursuing cannabis legalization through the traditional legislative process.  Instead, the issue of cannabis legalization will be put to a ballot measure in the 2020 election (which coincides with the next presidential election where voter turnout is supposed to be the highest).

Polling data still indicates that a majority of New Jerseyans support legalizing recreational cannabis.  If that is borne out in the 2020 ballot measure, legal cannabis will be a reality in New Jersey – it may simply take more time than originally anticipated.

This blog will continue to track the developments of cannabis law in New Jersey.

NJ Legislature Cancels Vote on Recreational Adult Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

New_Jersey_State_Senate

New Jersey State Senate: Photo Credit

On Monday, March 25, the New Jersey Legislature chose not to vote on the adult use cannabis legalization bill that has been the subject of debate for several years.  The vote was delayed due to the lack of support for the bill.  This is certainly a roadblock to adult use cannabis in New Jersey, but the efforts to legalize are not over.  Legislators will continue to debate the merits of cannabis legalization in the hope that the outstanding assemblymen and senators will change their positions and vote in favor of cannabis the next time the bill is presented for a vote.  Alternatively, the issue of cannabis legalization could be put to a ballot question, which would give New Jerseyans an opportunity to make their “voice heard.”

This blog will continue to follow all of the legalization efforts in New Jersey.

Murphy and Legislators Announce Deal for Legalized Cannabis

Image of New Jersey State HouseEarlier this week, Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steven Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senator Nicholas Scutari and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano jointly announced an agreement on the major outstanding issues for cannabis legalization: regulatory control and taxation.  A new bill, that has not been publicly released, will be debated over the next two weeks in anticipation of a vote on March 25, 2019.

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NJ Awaits Closed Door Session to Determine Next Steps in Cannabis Legalization

Closed DoorThe final push to advance the cannabis legalization agenda will take place in a closed door session on Thursday, December 13.  At that time, the governor will meet with Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin to continue to negotiate certain nuances of cannabis legalization.  Front and center will be the proposed Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a state agency legislators want to create to control both the proposed recreational cannabis industry and the medicinal industry.

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Out-of-State Partnerships: What is a “Significantly Involved Person”?

New Jersey State Line

FLICKR/MATT HINTSA

Perhaps the most significant change in Sen. Scutari and Sen. Sweeney’s new adult use cannabis legalization bill is the change in residency requirements for cannabis license holders.  In earlier iterations of Sen. Scutari’s legalization bill, cannabis license holders had to be New Jersey residents for two years prior to the date of the license application.  The thought process behind this requirement was to prevent established cannabis businesses from jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis from entering the New Jersey marketplace and establishing dominance before New Jersey citizens had an opportunity to gain a foothold themselves.

The new bill has changed that.  It creates a defined term known as a “significantly involved person” which essentially means a person or company with a 20% or greater stake in the company applying for a license.  § 9(a)(3) of the new bill states that “[a]n applicant shall have a significantly involved person or persons lawfully residing the State for at least two years as of the date of application to receive a license.” Continue reading

Sen. Sweeney Pushes for Legalization this Summer

New Jersey Democrats are now hopeful that a legal cannabis bill could be approved before Labor Day.  Even though the recent state budget passed without including tax revenue from adult use recreational cannabis, Senate President Steve Sweeney said that lawmakers are “rounding the corner on marijuana” and said that “the speaker and I are committed to getting the marijuana bills done this summer.  That’s our goal.”

Image of New Jersey State HouseSen. Sweeney’s comments suggested that preparing the budget actually made the cannabis discussion more difficult.  “I’m thinking late July, August, hopefully,” Sweeney said.  “Now that this budget’s out of the way, not that a lot of this stuff’s out of the way, all the noise is out of the way, hopefully the administration and we all can focus on marijuana.”

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The State of Cannabis Licensing in New Jersey: What Has Changed?

Image of Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D) and Senator Stephen M. Sweeney (D)

Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D) and Senator Stephen M. Sweeney (D)

This installment of New Jersey Cannabis Counsel dives into the new Scutari/Sweeney legalization bill (the “Bill” or the “New Bill”) and focuses on what was changed, and what was not changed,  from the predecessor bill (the “Old Bill”) when it comes to cannabis business licenses.

Our inaugural blog post addressed the first step for any legal cannabis business in New Jersey under the Old Bill: licensure.  The New Bill still requires licenses, but has slightly changed the overall licensing structure.  Currently, the New Bill proposes four cannabis licenses:

Class 1: Marijuana Grower License
Class 2: Marijuana Processor License
Class 3: Marijuana Wholesaler License
Class 4: Marijuana Retailer License

Followers of this blog and New Jersey’s efforts to legalize cannabis will be familiar with these licenses.  While the Old Bill had growing and processing under one license, all of the above types of cannabis businesses were included in the Old Bill.  More interesting is what was not included in the New Bill.

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Legalization Delayed, But Not Derailed

Governor Murphy promised legalized adult use cannabis as one of his first 100 days initiatives.  That time has come and passed.  So what exactly is the status of legal cannabis in New Jersey?

In early March, Gov. Murphy told New Jersey legislators that he wanted to legalize and tax cannabis before the end of 2019.  Money talks, and Gov. Murphy included $60 million in revenue from taxing the legal cannabis industry in his first budget proposal. Recently, however, Gov. Murphy has been less resolute about a legalization bill coming to fruition by his self-imposed deadline, saying that it was “too early to tell.”

Image of NJ Governor Phil Murphy and Senate President Stephen Sweeney

Gov. Murphy and Senate President Sweeney

That is not to say that legal cannabis will not happen in New Jersey.  The initial time frame was ambitious – perhaps overly so – but Gov. Murphy and Senate President Sweeney are still pushing for legalization. “There’s no reason to believe we can’t get there,” Gov. Murphy recently stated.  “This is not one you get overnight.  This takes time.  We’re in that process right now.”  Sen. Sweeney added “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get it done in the budget session.  I was actually hoping to get it done in the first 100 days.  But we have work to do.  I think it’s time for us to really start putting a plan in place, have hearings, and for the governor to hold some town halls and draw more attention to it.”

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Municipalities Continue to Voice Opinions on Legal Cannabis

New Jersey’s efforts to legalize adult use recreational cannabis are moving forward, full steam ahead.  While Governor Murphy has somewhat walked back his pledge to sign a legalization bill into law in his first 100 days, he has stated that he is not deterred by Attorney General Sessions and continues to study how legal cannabis has operated in the eight jurisdictions where it is legal.  Moreover, Senator Scutari has reintroduced his legalization bill to the legislature and Deputy State Assembly Majority Leader Reed Gusciora, who co-sponsored Scutari’s bill, also plans to introduce his own competing bill in the coming weeks.  Gusciora’s bill is rumored to allow for home-grows and to limit the number of cannabis businesses who are given licenses.

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Notwithstanding this forward momentum, certain municipalities have launched preemptive attacks on legal cannabis.  The Ocean County Board of Freeholders is expected to approve of a resolution against the legalization of cannabis.  The Monmouth County Board of Freeholders passed a similar resolution last month.  These resolutions do not actually carry any legal authority – the proposed bill requires municipalities (towns) to make the decision about legal cannabis, not counties.  The resolutions are also seemingly premature given that the counties are implementing a ban before there is any consensus about what legal cannabis will actually look like in New Jersey.

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