New Jersey voters have approved a ballot question that amends the state constitution to make marijuana legal, the result of a years-long effort by activists, lawmakers and business people. But the vote is also just the beginning.
Before people can begin purchasing and using marijuana, state lawmakers must still pass a bill that will detail the rules and regulations surrounding the legal weed industry. Dispensaries must go through a rigorous licensing process, and new growers will have to come to add to the state’s supply.
“The past few years that got us to legalization are just as important as the next few are — and especially the next couple of weeks,” agrees Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.
The lawmakers are discussing an excise tax on growers, limiting number of licenses issued, adding more detail on how social justice and diversity goals would be met, allowing municipalities to decide how the 2% tax rate ought to be spent, defining how wholesaler cannabis growers should play in the market.
It will take months, if not more than a year, before Tuesday’s vote becomes a reality in the Garden State.
The first companies to sell to the public will likely be the state’s 12 currently licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Scutari said last week he hoped they had already increased their cultivation capacity to prepare for legalization and could start selling to the public almost immediately after enabling legislation passes. Others quickly dismissed the idea.
Jeff Brown, the assistant commissioner in the state Department of Health who oversees the medical marijuana program, said the existing dispensaries must provide marijuana to the state’s 95,000 patients, and that they are not ready for an influx of 1 million estimated customers. Three of those dispensaries, which received licenses in late 2018, have yet to open their doors to patients at all.
And even if additional cultivation begins immediately, it takes three to four months for plants to go from seed to harvest. Dispensaries would have to hire additional staff to meet the demand, too.
Advocates are hopeful that arrests for marijuana possession will come to an end much sooner, although that will not happen immediately. Lawmakers must pass a bill that decriminalizes possession of marijuana, or Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration will have to issue a directive for police to stop arrests.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU-NJ, said unless the Legislature acts quickly in the coming days, arrests will likely continue. If those delays persist, Sinha said Gov. Murphy’s administration should consider directives to police to stop certain marijuana arrests.
“The Legislature has its marching orders,” Sinha said. “It would be a gross injustice for the state to vote yes today, and then continue to arrest tomorrow. There’s the potential for a lot of confusion.”