New Jersey lawmakers have been talking about cannabis legalization for years – but implementation through legislature wasn’t taken seriously until the election of Governor Murphy. Since then, the governor and lawmakers have been trying to come to an agreement on all the aspects of legalization prior to introducing a bill – and finally, the Senate has decided it’s time to get this process rolling. Voting by the full Senate will begin the Monday after Thanksgiving, with the Assembly possibly voting as soon as December.

“We have been talking, and it’s time to move forward,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media Monday night. “Hopefully, we can get to agreement with the governor.”    

Senate Bill 2703, better known as the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act”, would legalize the possession and personal use of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older. It would also create a regulatory system and impose a 12 percent commercial tax and an additional 2 percent excise tax for towns hosting cannabis businesses.

Along with legalizing and regulating the possession, consumption and sale of cannabis, the bill also provides a framework for an “expedited expungement” process for those who have cannabis-related arrests or convictions (up to an ounce of cannabis). A separate bill includes more details for this process, however S2703 would require the Administrative Office of the Courts to create an electronic filing system for the expedited expungements.

Like several other states, this new law would create a five-member panel to be known as the Cannabis Regulatory Commission – to be appointed by the governor and legislature – who would oversee the entire industry. While they would be affiliated with the Department of Treasury, they would be an independent entity charged with regulating the new legal industry.

Other issues that this bill addresses include allowing delivery services and permitting dispensaries to create “consumption” areas, which would be public places where people could enjoy their legal cannabis. However, the dispensary would first need the local governing body to pass an ordinance that allows the consumption areas – which means towns can easily block such establishments from opening, should they choose to do so.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act might still be a work in progress. Governor Murphy is a proponent of a much higher taxation rate (around 25 percent), while others, like Senate President Stephen Sweeney, believe the lower tax rate will help bring an end to illegal sales much sooner.

However, if both the Senate and Assembly pass this bill there is a chance that Murphy will sign it into law. For now, it’s a bit of a wait-and-see situation, but residents should be excited as legalization seems closer than ever for New Jersey.