Pot delivered to your door? New N.J. weed plan includes delivery and no limit on shops

By Payton Guion and Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

New Jersey could see marijuana delivery, “immediate” expungements and more dispensaries than previously allowed if the bills legislators are crafting make their way through the Legislature. 

For the last several weeks, a handful of state lawmakers, some of the most powerful politicians in the state among them, have been drafting new marijuana legislation from the tangle of plans previously introduced this year.

The goal has been to arrive at two bills — one for medical marijuana and one for full legalization — that can satisfy Gov. Phil Murphy and win support from the majority of the Legislature.

After a marathon meeting last week, the legislators say they’ve agreed on major points of the dual bills and are preparing to present them to the Murphy administration soon.

Based on interviews with multiple lawmakers who have participated in the discussions, NJ Advance Media has learned of several of the key sections of the bills. Despite the current consensus, these ideas could still change.

“Everything is a guessing game because leadership still has to get the votes,” said Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen, D-Somerset, who has helped draft the bill. “There are a lot of moving parts. It’s like an erector set.”

Here are the major pieces currently being considered:

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Out for delivery

People in New Jersey could soon be getting marijuana delivered, as both the medical marijuana expansion bill and the recreational marijuana bill allow for weed deliveries, according to Danielsen and other lawmakers close to the bills.

Earlier this year, Murphy called for medical marijuana deliveries as a way to increase access to patients, but the idea is now being considered for both medical and recreational.

Not all states allow marijuana to be delivered, but California, Nevada and Oregon do.

No limit on licenses

The most recent version of the recreational marijuana bill introduced in the spring had capped marijuana dispensaries at 120, but that ceiling has been removed, according to state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex. Instead, the bill will allow regulators to decide how many licenses will be issued.

Marijuana proponents had criticized a limit being written into the bill because any future increase in the number of licenses for marijuana companies would require approval of the Legislature.

Who makes the rules?

The bill envisions the creation of a part-time marijuana advisory commission, which will watch over the medicinal and recreational markets and make recommendations on when and how they should grow, said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the prime sponsor.

“Market forces will decide, but we want it to make sure (the market) runs effectively and there is an adequate product available,” Scutari said.

“I learned my lesson with the medicinal marijuana program, when the (Christie) administration was not on board. We saw a slow-moving program,” he added. Murphy is very supportive, but the state has to anticipate future governors may think differently, he said.

Scutari said he sees the commission also playing a role in “rounding out the specifics on diversity in the licensure process, and for the vetting (of) geographic areas” for expansion.

The five-member commission, overseen by the Treasury Department, would not include legislators, as a previous version of the bill had called for. The governor would appoint three members, and the Senate and Assembly would name one each, Scutari said.

Vitale said he sees commission members as “per diem” employees, not positions with salaries and benefits. He added that he'd like to see appointees from the field of medical science, research and the cannabis industry.

Going micro

In addition to licenses for cultivators, processors and retailers, the bill is expected to make micro-licenses available to businesses in the New Jersey marijuana market. The idea behind the micro-licenses is to give smaller businesses a better chance to enter the market.

The micro-licenses allow business to function much the same as normal licensees — growing, processing or selling marijuana — but at a smaller scale, which requires less money to launch.

Danielsen said the language in the bill calls for at least 10 percent of all licenses to be micro-licenses.

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Expungements

If Jersey legalizes marijuana, low-level marijuana possession would be legal, meaning there would be hundreds of thousands of residents with a conviction for an activity that is no longer a crime.

Each of the recreational bills introduced this year have allowed people with low-level marijuana possession to apply to clear that charge from their records. More recently, lawmakers have been working to make that process easier. Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, has been leading that effort.

Scutari said the bill will call for “immediate” expungement of simple possession arrests. It will outline “an efficient and cost-effective method” for doing so, aided by an ombudsman to help smooth the process.

He added that Holley and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, are writing an accompanying bill that does more to expedite expungements.

Women, minorities and veterans

Like previous versions of the recreational bill, this one aims to set aside 25 percent of licenses to businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans. The big difference in this bill, Danielsen said, is that the 25 percent is a mandate, rather than a goal.

Other lawmakers indicated the bill could end up back at the 25 percent goal, rather than the mandate, depending on how the negotiations go.

Reducing unemployment

In his last attempt at a recreational bill, Scutari introduced the idea of social impact zones. These were areas with high poverty and marijuana arrest rates that disproportionately affected minorities. Scutari’s bill gave preference to licensing companies from those areas. Danielsen, who supported the social impact zones, said the problem was that the overlapping income and arrest information wasn’t available.

As an alternative, Danielsen said the lawmakers are considering giving preferential treatment to companies based in areas with high unemployment.

What we don't know

It remains unclear what the final tax rate would be on marijuana in New Jersey. Previous bills have floated both 15 percent and 25 percent, so it’s likely the final tax rate falls in that window. As in other versions of the bill, people will pay sales tax and an excise tax on marijuana purchases. Lawmakers are also considering giving municipalities the power to impose a local tax on sales.

The state tax rate is still a matter of negotiation with Murphy’s office. Scutari said he would argue for a graduated rate that starts out on the low side, “so we can starve out the black market.”

It's still not known how exactly the tax revenue will be used, and Scutari said it's a matter under discussion. He said he'd like to see a portion of the tax revenue used to expand drug treatment services and sober driving enforcement.

The bill will also allow municipalities to tack on up to a 2 percent tax on marijuana sales. “It will give more incentive for towns to want” dispensaries, “if there are attendant costs — although quite frankly, I don’t see them.”

Danielsen said the bill will likely eliminate the tax on medical marijuana. Currently, patients pay sales tax on their marijuana.

Also unclear is whether there will be a wholesaler license added to the licenses for cultivation, processing and retailing. Vitale said the wholesaler license is in the bill, but it’s not a requirement. “If the commission decides it’s prudent, we’ll have wholesale,” he said.

Timeline

After working the past few weeks on compromising to write the medical expansion and recreational marijuana bills, the lawmakers agree that only minor tweaks remain.

“There’s clean-up language that we’re doing now,” Vitale said. “And we’ll probably have one more quick conference call.”

They’ll then present the bills to the Murphy administration for feedback, before they introduce them to the Legislature and schedule hearings. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has previously said he hopes to have a vote before the end of September.

Original Article by NJ.com


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