(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Assembly and Senate will vote on two bills relating to cannabis sales and legalization on Thursday supporting an industry that could add up to 43,000 jobs, according to Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Voters approved a referendum legalizing the drug in November. Three days later Gov. Phil Murphy appointed the members of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will be led by Chairman Dianna Houenou, a former policy council with the American Civil Liberties Union. Jeff Brown, a former assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Public Health, is serving as executive director.
Lawmakers agreed that cannabis sales will be taxed at 6.626 percent. The money will not go into the state’s general fund. Seventy percent will go to communities the state identifies as “disproportionately” affected by marijuana arrests. The other 30 percent will fund the commission and go toward equipment and training for drug recognition experts.
“We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults,” Sweeney said.
Only 37 cannabis businesses will be approved during the first two years, according to the bill.
The excise taxes on cannabis growers will depend on the average price-per ounce and could be as high as $60 if the price is below $200 and could go as low as $10.
Cities will be allowed to collect a 2 percent tax from cannabis businesses or they can choose to ban them from their communities.
“By implementing a regulated system that allows people age 21 and over to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use we will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, a key sponsor of the legislation.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association expressed concerns about how the legislation will affect workplace drug testing
“NJBIA believes that maintaining workplace safety, through drug free workplaces, is essential for certain safety sensitive occupations, such as nuclear power plants, airlines, chemical plants, and heavy construction sites,” said NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor. “We believe the bill should err on the side of public safety until better testing for cannabis impairment is developed.”
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines, with Republicans opposing the legislation.
Republicans are also expected to oppose a bill that decriminalizes possession of up to six ounces of marijuana.
Gov. Murphy has been a proponent of legalizing cannabis and is expected to sign both bills if they pass the Legislature.