Heather Randazzo

Heather Randazzo, a grow employee at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary, trims leaves off marijuana plants March 22, 2019, in the company's grow house in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – A pair of legislative committees have advanced a bill to regulate and enforce the sale of personal use cannabis in New Jersey.

On Thursday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 7-4 to approve A21, while the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted 8-4 to approve a mirror bill, S21.

Earlier this month, New Jersey voters voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Under the question, only adults 21 years old or older can use cannabis, and a state commission that oversees New Jersey’s medical cannabis program will manage the personal use cannabis market.

“The people of New Jersey voted for and support legalization, but they didn’t vote for this bill,” state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Vineland, said in a statement. “This bill has been pushed and pulled in so many directions by special interests and legislators who want nothing more than to get their hands on a tax windfall. I had to vote ‘No’ and I am disappointed that Trenton couldn’t do the right thing and pass a bill that has not (been) corrupted by greed.

“Legalizing marijuana? This won’t do a thing to get rid of the black market for pot. In fact, the taxes on legal marijuana will practically assure continued cash flow for the street-corner dealers,” Testa added. “People who have been buying illegally aren’t going to walk past their dealer and go to a legal shop where they will have to pay top dollar for the same product. Clearly, tax revenue is the priority here, and everything else is window dressing.”

Lawmakers hoped for the full Senate and Assembly to vote on the bills before Thanksgiving, but discussions to align differences remain ongoing, according to reports. One point centers on the number of licenses the state will grant to marijuana cultivators.

“The legislation must be amended, especially as it relates to the number of licenses available to cultivators, to ensure our state can lead by example and create a market that realizes the values of equity and justice that have been espoused from the start,” Brandon McKoy, chief executive of New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), said in a blog post before the votes.

“The legalization bill currently implements an arbitrary and incredibly low cap on the number of licenses that will be made available to cultivators, leaving it at just 28,” McKoy added. “This stipulation is set to remain in place for the first 18 months following the first sale by a newly licensed recreational dispensary. Considering this first sale is likely to be more than a year after the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is formed, the actual wait period is closer to three years.”

An amendment raised the number of cultivators to 37, Marijuana Moment reported.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee previously approved legislation to reduce penalties for some cannabis and hashish-related offenses. The bill, S2535, would decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis.

“The voters approved legalizing adult-use marijuana (earlier this month), so now it is time we decriminalize it so that folks in Black and Brown communities across the state do not continue to be disproportionately arrested for possession,” state Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, said in a statement following the vote. “Decriminalization is the long-sought remedy for rampant injustice in our state.”