A few Hang ups to finalize Bill to Decriminalize but lawmakers agree it will get done in a week.
After last-minute disputes forced the Assembly and Senate to cancel Monday votes on landmark bills to halt many arrests for marijuana possession and launch a legal weed industry, a key lawmaker says it will probably be at least another week before any agreements are reached.
But Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who sponsored the legislation that will guide the marijuana industry, said Monday he hasn’t lost hope that the two chambers can come to an agreement quickly. My dance is on hold again. WTF? I'll keep dancing while you corrupt politicians get your act together!
Scutari (R) said “I think it was just people taking a break. There were enough talks every five seconds for days and days.”
Although voters approved legalizing weed on Election Day, lawmakers need to set the market before anybody can actually buy legal weed, and to stop police from continuing to arrest people for marijuana possession. They want this all done by Jan. 1, when the constitutional amendment takes effect. But nothing has passed as lawmakers have haggled for weeks now. Here is what these magicians tried to pull out of the hat!
Last week, last-minute changes derailed efforts to advance Scutari’s bill (S21) to set rules for a legal marijuana industry a second time.
And that came days after the Assembly pulled a vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana when some lawmakers objected to a provision added by Scutari to downgrade penalties for possessing psilocybin, or “magic,” mushrooms.
Sources with knowledge of the negotiations have said the Senate made its changes late Thursday as leverage over the Assembly, attempting to push the lower house to pass the decriminalization bill.
By Friday, both chambers had canceled Monday voting sessions, with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin stressing his house’s “approach for producing fair and responsible legislation is to be thoughtful and deliberative.” Kevin McArdle, Coughlin’s spokesman, said discussions continued Monday.
“It’s not disappointing. We still have time,” Scutari told NJ Advance Media Monday. “I think some legislators are thankful that we slowed down. I am hopeful. The voters have spoken.”
Here are the disagreements holding up passage of the bills:
Limits on how many can grow recreational weed
The Assembly version of the bill currently allows the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to license only 37 marijuana growers during the industry’s first two years. That would keep the industry small, benefitting existing medical marijuana operators who will be allowed to sell the weed they grow to the public.
But the Senate version does away with the limits entirely. That’s what Gov. Phil Murphy’s office wanted to see done, hoping that opening up the licensing process would also allow the marijuana industry to grow quickly and drive out the illegal market. The way it should be. Racial justice advocates have also called for an open industry to encourage participation from those who cannot compete with big multi-state operators for a small number of licenses.
Drug tests at the workplace
With the legalization of marijuana comes concerns for employers: How do we ensure someone operating heavy machinery or working as a driver isn’t coming to work high? And for workers: Will we be penalized if we use weed off the job?
The Assembly version increased protections for employees who want to use marijuana after work hours. It said an employer would need “a rational basis” and a “reasonable suspicion” to drug test an employee, and created a new license for a drug recognition analyst who would undergo a special training program to determine if an employee was showing signs of inhibition.
The Senate amended the bill to say: an employer “may require an employee to undergo a drug test upon any suspicion of an employee’s usage of a cannabis item while engaged in the performance of the employee’s work responsibilities or upon any observable signs of intoxication.”
That version still creates a drug recognition analysts to assist in these incidents.
Taxes and how they’re spent. The crooked see $$$$$
Both the Senate and Assembly added a tax on growers last week that would generate revenue for programs in minority communities.
Under the Assembly version, the money from the growers tax would go entirely to those programs, while the funds from a 7% sales tax would support the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, reimburse police departments for costs to train Drug Recognition Experts to crack down on impaired driving and the state’s general fund.
Many who testified during committee hearings Thursday took issue with language in the bill that said the growers tax “may” go to community programs, instead of using more exact terms like “shall.”
The Senate did not change that language, but went a step further to allocate 70% of the sales tax revenue to community programs, along with the entire tax on growers. The other 30% of sales tax would support training of Drug Recognition Experts and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. The bill would no longer direct money to the general fund.
The decriminalization bill
The Senate voted 29-4 to pass S2535 on Nov. 16, which eliminates all penalties for possessing up to six ounces of marijuana and also made selling up to one ounce a disorderly persons offense. But the bill included a late change to downgrade penalties for possession of mushrooms — instead of a three to five year prison sentence, people could see just six months.
“I thought there was a good opportunity,” Scutari, who added the mushroom piece, said last week. He noted he thought the Assembly could also pass the bill as is after the Senate voted strongly in favor. “We shouldn’t be manufacturing criminals over this stuff.”
The Assembly doesn’t see it that way. In June, the full chamber passed a different decriminalization bill that replaced arrests for up to two ounces of marijuana with a $50 fine. It did not go so far to decriminalize selling or include psychedelics.
In the Senate, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, had introduced her bill to decriminalize up to a pound of possession. But no committee held a hearing on it.
After voters said yes to legalization, she came back with an amended version that fell in the middle of the two efforts: the six ounce bill.
During the Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing last week, Ruiz expressed frustration that the Legislature had not acted to end arrests.
“It is disappointing, it is shameful, and, quite frankly, sends the wrong message,” she said.
“I would hope that we do not take a further action until decriminalization is an actual piece of legislation that’s been voted on and is on its way to the governors’ desk.”
Let's Get This Done and STOP your bullshit. The legal whores trying to collect. "Get your fucking hands out of weed in NJ" OK?