5 reasons N.J. is still waiting for legal weed

5 reasons N.J. is still waiting for legal weed

03 Temmuz 2018 - 02:00

EDITOR'S NOTE: Interested in the marijuana business industry? NJ Cannabis Insider is a new premium intelligence briefing that features exclusive weekly content geared toward entrepreneurs, lawyers and realtors. View a sample issue.

As June burned to a close, lawmakers in Trenton were still scrambling to pass a budget by the end of the month and avoid a government shutdown. Surprisingly absent from negotiations was one of the main platforms on which Gov. Phil Murphy ran for office: marijuana legalization. 

Despite support from top lawmakers, marijuana reform couldn't get done before the June 30 budget deadline. It's now been delayed until at least later this summer.

So, with a governor and legislative leaders who have said they support marijuana legalization, why has no real action been taken on legal weed? 

NJCI Colorado was among the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis
Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media
1. Legal weed has been a tough sell

Despite clear support for legal weed from Murphy, not all state leaders agree. New Jersey Cannabis Insider has been tracking votes for recreational marijuana and previously reported that there weren't enough in the Legislature to legalize weed.

The majority of lawmakers haven't publicly said whether they'd support recreational marijuana, and many could still vote in favor, but it's far from a sure thing.

On the local level, far more municipalities have banned marijuana than have said they'd welcome it within their borders. More than 20 towns have taken steps to prevent marijuana businesses from opening, while just three towns have said they want the industry.

NJCI Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge grows and sells medical cannabis
Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media
2. There are a bunch of people at the table

Is legal weed a social justice issue? An economic issue? How much should it be taxed? How many growers and stores should Jersey have?

It all depends on who you ask and when you ask them.

Advocates on all sides of the marijuana debate have been pushing for a variety of policies. Some industry groups want hundreds of dispensaries, while the existing medical dispensaries are interested in limiting the market.

At the same time, Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, talks less about the number of growers and more about the total canopy, or the amount of space dedicated to marijuana cultivation.

"When discussions started being had, there were so many voices that had credible arguments," said Daniel McKillop, an attorney with Scarinci Hollenbeck, who advises clients in the cannabis industry. "End of June was always going to be a pretty optimistic goal."

NJCI Colorado was among the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis
Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media
3. Social justice is a hot issue

Among the biggest issues that advocates couldn't agree on was the one Murphy campaigned on the hardest: social justice.

Just about everyone, including opponents of legalization, agree that people should no longer be arrested for simple marijuana possession. They just can't agree on how to address the past social injustices of marijuana policy.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, has introduced multiple bills that would allow people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes to get their records expunged. But that's not far enough for some.

Dianna Houenou, policy counsel for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, has long called for automatic expungements.

Which idea will end up prevailing remains to be seen.

4. Lawmakers couldn't find common ground

Last last month, NJ Advance Media reported that Scutari was planning to introduce a bill that combined a medical marijuana expansion with a plan for recreational marijuana. At the time, state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said that he would never support such a bill.

Undeterred, Scutari introduced the combined bill earlier this month. It went nowhere.

Since Scutari introduced that bill he and Vitale have been unable to compromise on either recreational or medical marijuana expansion.



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