After months of delays and strained negotiations, New Jersey lawmakers unveiled the bills they hope will legalize marijuana for recreational use, expand the state’s medical marijuana program and overhaul the rules for expunging drug-related and other violations.
Votes in legislative committees are scheduled for Monday, with votes by the full Senate and Assembly possible in December. If the bills are approved and then signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who supports legalization, New Jersey would become the 11th state to allow adults to possess and use small amounts of marijuana.
The legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, S-2703, would allow adults who are 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis or its equivalent in other forms, such as liquid or concentrate. Use of marijuana in public places would be limited in a similar way to smoking cigarettes, with smoking in special areas and designated hotel rooms.
Growing marijuana at home would be prohibited. Sales of the drug would be taxed by the state at 12 percent, plus up to 2 percent by municipalities. People who have been charged with or convicted of violations made legal by the bill would be able to apply to have those offenses expunged, or wiped from their records.
New Jersey would expand its medical marijuana program under a second bill, S-10, by increasing the monthly medical marijuana cap to 3 ounces per patient from 2 ounces, allowing adults to purchase edible forms of cannabis and allowing patients to visit any medical marijuana dispensary in the state as opposed to limiting them to the one where they are registered. It also requires a newly created Cannabis Regulatory Commission to process applications for new medical marijuana dispensaries, manufacturers and cultivators within 90 days.
Unlike an earlier proposal to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for any medical condition, the bill continues to allow prescriptions only for a list of qualifying conditions, ranging from seizure disorder and cancer to anxiety, migraines and chronic pain.
A third bill, S-3205, would greatly expand what crimes are eligible under New Jersey’s expungement laws, which have been criticized as overly strict compared with those in other states.
It’s been a bumpy road for legalization proponents. Public opinion is still on their side — 58 percent of residents support adult-use marijuana, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released last month — but opposition has been loud and varied, from law enforcement officials concerned about how to test for marijuana impairment to lawmakers worried that an uptick in marijuana use would hurt minority communities and tarnish the image of family-friendly shore towns.