New Jersey Doesn't Have The Votes To Legalize Adult Use Cannabis

A vote was planned in New Jersey for the legalization of adult use cannabis, but a lack of votes caused the legislation to be postponed until a later date – possibly November. The proposed legislation, which many expected to be passed today, would have allowed adults 21 and over to consumer, purchase and possess cannabis from licensed retailers.

Nik Komyati, Chair of the Cannabis Practice Group of the law firm Bressler, Amery & Ross, based in Florham Park, NJ said, “I am very disappointed by today’s decision to not hold a vote on the three cannabis bills.  The overwhelming public safety and social justice issues these bills address are reason alone to get the ball across the goal line. When you add in the potential jobs and tax revenues that this emerging industry brings, this delay does nothing but hurt the state and its constituents.  That said, it is just a delay and I expect that these bills will be revisited in the next few months.”

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted in favor of legalization bills. NJ Advance Media was the first to report Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) called off the vote. Apparently, it became clear the Senate — the upper house of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature — would remain a handful of votes shy of the minimum 21 needed for passage.

“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” said Sweeney, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “This fight is not over. We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward. While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.”

The Governor and other politicians had wanted to secure legalization through the legislative process versus a ballot initiative. One issue holding back the agreement on legislation was how the state planned to tax cannabis. Once that was agreed upon, it seemed the law would move forward. The bill also included a number of social equity provisions and it also dealt with expedited expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

NORML Political Associate Tyler McFadden said, “Voters and lawmakers both agree that the practice of treating marijuana consumers as second-class citizens must end. Unfortunately, legislative intransigence regarding how best to create a regulatory framework has resulted in, at least for now, a continuation of the failed policy of marijuana criminalization in the Garden State.” She added, “It should be acknowledged that, to date, no state has taken legislative action to regulate the adult use marijuana market. In every jurisdiction where regulations exist, they were enacted by a direct vote of the citizenry. Based on current polling in NewJersey, we have little doubt that, if provided the opportunity, Garden State voters would take similar action.” 62% of voters in New Jersey approve of legalization.

On the opposite side of the fence, Smart Approaches to Marijuana New York (SAM NY) President Dr. Kevin Sabet said, “Lawmakers in New Jersey heard the pleas of parents, health professionals, law enforcement and others and blocked this bill. The chairman of the State Senate’s Black Caucus, Senator Ron Rice deserves credit for his leadership to prevent Big Marijuana from targeting, exploiting and victimizing minority and low-income communities.”

Current Market

There are currently five medical dispensaries for the state. The state’s sixth and final cultivation license was awarded to Harmony Foundation in 2017. While the Governor has a more relaxed approach than his predecessor, the state’s residents are known to be more conservative and the response to legalization has been decidedly mixed. There were roughly 32,051 patients registered in 2018 and that number is expected to increase to 51,281 in 2019. $97 million was spent in 2018 and that is projected to increase to $157 million in 2019 according to a report by Arcview.

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