This past week it was announced that lawmakers in the state of New Jersey would have their first opportunity to vote on a cannabis legalization bill shortly after Thanksgiving. Yesterday was the big day, and activists and legislators alike were proud to announce that Senate Bill 2703 has successfully made it through the first round of voting. Both the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Budget Committee voted in favor of the bill – which puts it one step closer to becoming law.
“It’s very exciting. We made history today,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey. “This is the first time a legalization bill has ever been voted out of committee in New Jersey. So this was a huge win.”
The bill aiming to legalize cannabis for adults 21 years of age and older got a very supportive vote out of both committees. It won with a 7-4 vote in the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee (with two committee members absent) and a 7-3 vote in the Assembly Budget Committee (with only one absent member). Along with Senate Bill 2703, two companion bills addressing expedited record expungement and the state’s medical cannabis program were also passed on Monday.
“Marijuana is already being sold and used, but it is the dealers who are running the drug trade and they are selling marijuana that is sometimes laced with other products,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney. “We developed a plan that will put in place rules and regulations that allow for adult use of cannabis in a responsible way. As a regulated product, legal marijuana will be safe and controlled.”
Now that the initial votes have passed, the bill advances to the floor in both the Senate and the Assembly for a final vote. Only after it passes the final vote in each chamber will the bill make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. While there are no set dates for these votes, chances are it will be in the relatively near future – either shortly before the end of 2018, or early 2019.
“Today’s Senate and Assembly votes are a victory for common sense and for sound public policy in New Jersey,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “We look forward to lawmakers on the Assembly and Senate floors acting swiftly to approve this legislation to send to Governor Murphy to sign into law.”
Overall, this shows the support that was hoped for – and somewhat expected – after years of talking about legalization with little action due to former Governor Chris Christie. While current Governor Murphy is much more supportive of cannabis, there are still some issues – like tax rates – that he and the legislature may not see eye-to-eye on. Hopefully the tax rate won’t be a make-or-break issue so that if this bill finds its way to the governor’s desk in the near future it can be signed into law.