New Jersey postpones vote on legal recreational pot

Mike Catalini
Associated Press
In this Friday, March 22, 2019 photo, Paige Dellafave-DeRosa, a processing supervisor at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., sorts marijuana buds. Lawmakers are poised to vote on making New Jersey the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

Trenton, N.J. – New Jersey lawmakers dealt a blow to the prospects of legal recreational marijuana use Monday, when the Senate leader postponed a vote because he couldn’t muster enough support in the chamber.

Leaders and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy back the measure, but passage was far from certain because lawmakers were hesitant.

Murphy has been trying to persuade them, and State Senate President Steve Sweeney said he would continue to try to win over lawmakers.

“This fight is not over,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland. “The Senate was very close to 21 votes and, with more education and advocacy, I believe we will get this legislation across the finish line.”

It’s unclear when another vote could take place in the Senate. The Assembly was also expected to vote Monday, and it was not clear how the delay in the Senate would affect that.

Legal recreational pot had been widening its footprint across the country despite a federal prohibition. New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 10 other states if the measure succeeds.

New Jersey’s bill calls for a tax of $42 per ounce, setting up a five-member regulator commission and expediting expungements to people with marijuana-related offenses.

The bill would also let towns that host retailers, growers, wholesalers and processors levy taxes as well, up to 3 percent in some cases.

The expungement provisions, which Murphy says will set New Jersey apart from any other state with legal weed, waive any fee for expungement processing and permit clearing of records for possession up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).

That unsettled some lawmakers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty. The change appeared to permit felons, and not just low-level offenders, to qualify for expungement, he said.

Under earlier versions of the bill, the expungement provision covered people convicted of possession roughly 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana.

Lawmakers said during hearings that while 5 pounds sounds like a lot, it’s necessary to allow for an expedited expungement process because the statute covering possession for small amounts of cannabis goes up to 5 pounds.

The bill says tax revenue would go into a fund for “development, regulations, and enforcement of cannabis activities,” including paying for expungement costs, with the balance going to the general fund.

The measure considers lawmaker concerns about women-and minority-owned businesses becoming part of the legal pot market and requires 30 percent of licenses go to them.

It also calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.