New Jersey and New York Continue March towards Cannabis Legalization

By Patrick McKnight

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says the legalization of recreational cannabis is coming “sooner rather than later.” His remarks came during a Facebook Live town hall meeting on October 1st. Murphy went on to say the legislature could vote on recreational cannabis within the next few weeks.

Legalizing cannabis within his first 100 days in office was a major campaign promise the Governor. This window came and went while competing legislation and battles over the budget stymied momentum during the Spring and Summer. Now reform advocates are hopeful that with the budget passed and legislative support coalescing around a single proposal, the Garden State may enact recreational cannabis legislation before the end of 2018. State Senate President Steve Sweeney said the Senate could vote before the end of October. On the other hand, the new unified proposal has not been formally introduced. The legislature would also need to schedule public hearings which will likely bring scores of opponents and supporters alike to voice their opinions.

Murphy said of the progress, “Based on the tenor of discussions and the give and take we've gotten, that feels about right. People have got to remember: We're not inventing marijuana. This exists right now. It's not regulated. It's in the hands of the bad guys. Kids are exposed. It's not taxed. And the inequities, particularly along racial lines, continue.”

Although the bill has not been released to the public, sources familiar with the matter have indicated it will involve a low tax rate, cannabis delivery, a mandate of 25% of licenses going to women and minorities, and allowances for public consumption. Much of the rule-making authority would be left up to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. A separate bill may be introduced to enact expungements for New Jersey citizens previously convicted of low-level cannabis possession.

Across the Hudson River, the Empire State is also moving towards substantial cannabis reform. In August, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of a cannabis working group to write a legalization bill. The bill will be based on the recommendations of the New York Department of Health which came out in support of legalizing and regulating cannabis earlier this year.

Some observers have suggested the first of the two states to legalize cannabis could enjoy a significant first-mover economic advantage.