Lawmakers can’t agree on best way to set up New Jersey’s legal weed industry
The bill that would create a legal marijuana industry in New Jersey was abruptly pulled from scheduled hearings in Trenton on Thursday.
New Jersey voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution to legalize recreation marijuana for adults. But lawmakers and the governor are the ones who will have to work out the details.
“If you price yourselves too high here, between the sales tax and local taxes and excise taxes, you're going to price yourself out of the market,” says Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo. “And the black market will continue to exist. That's my concern here quite frankly.”
Negotiations are ongoing between the state's three top Democratic leaders over what the tax rate for legal cannabis should be.
“There are some issues surrounding that. As you know, I publicly have not been a supporter over the years but do support making sure we have the best enabled, enabling legislation possible,” Sarlo says.
But Rev. Charles Boyer, the founding director of the Salvation and Social Justice Group, says that he is concerned big corporations will muscle into the marijuana market in the state.
“What they're going to do is set up a system for mostly white drug dealers to operate legally. Now if that isn't the biggest case for reparations in the modern day, I don't know what is,” Boyer says.
Boyer adds, “The only reason they're calling it a mad rush now is because it's a gold rush…it's a green rush…I'm willing for the whole process to be blown up until it's done right.”
The reverend says that he wants a $40 per ounce excise tax on legal marijuana, with the money going to housing and restorative justice in communities impacted by the war on drugs.
“Even with them saying the ‘black market’ is a tell, because, No. 1 it shows that you're really racist in your thinking to even continue to use that terminology,” he says. “But it's also a tell because they want no market for Black people.”
But Sarlo says that he wants to see the revenue raised by the sale of legal cannabis to go to different areas.
“Revenues that are raised here should be put to training for our police to ensure that they have the proper training,” Sarlo says.
Lawmakers seem to not be able to agree on the revenue, which may be why lawmakers failed to pass legalization bills earlier in Gov. Phil Murphy’s term. Union County Democratic Sen. Nick Scutari, the author of the cannabis legalization bill, is promising that all revenue from marijuana will go to addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
“No, I do not believe him,” says Boyer. “Sen. Scutari has not shown himself in my opinion to be a friend of the Black community. “
“Everybody needs to take a step back, as you know I am a very practical, pragmatic legislator, and I just think we need to bring a very practical, pragmatic approach. This is a complete new industry we need to take a step back and we'll get through this,” Sarlo says.
The amendment voters approved takes effect Jan. 1, but it may still be illegal to buy and sell weed until the new cannabis economy is set up. A Senate panel passed a separate bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession.