Up next: Sweeney expects summer vote on marijuana legalization
Gov. Phil Murphy’s first hundred days in office came and went without legalized marijuana, as he’d promised to get done as a candidate. Now his first budget is approved, still without taxes from legalization.
Top Democrats are now saying it could be approved before Labor Day.
Murphy’s original budget plan in March counted on $60 million from adult-use, recreational marijuana sales starting Jan. 1. But the budget he signed Sunday includes none of that, though there’s still $20 million from sales of medical marijuana.
“It is not, because there’s no bill. So I can’t score anything when there’s not a bill,” Murphy said. “But I think there’s a broad commitment among all of us to try to get that over the goal line sooner than later.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said lawmakers are “rounding the corner on marijuana” and predicts approval by the end of the August.
“I know the speaker and I are committed to getting the marijuana bills done this summer. That’s our goal,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said the issue’s chief advocate, Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, and a key figure with concerns about legalization, Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, are talking about the issue. Vitale opposed a plan to combine legalization and improvements to medical marijuana in one bill.
“I’m thinking late July, August, hopefully,” Sweeney said. “Now that this budget’s out of the way, now that a lot of this stuff’s out of the way, all the noise in out of the way, hopefully the administration and we all can focus on marijuana.”
Recreational marijuana sales could start relatively quickly at existing medical dispensaries – though those locations are already working hard to keep pace with the increased demand from the medical patients after that program was expanded three months ago.
The number of patients in New Jersey’s medical program has nearly doubled to 25,000 since the start of the year and is expected to double again by year’s end, said Bill Caruso, a member of the steering committee for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.
“There are some backlogs in terms of getting people licensed and then there are some significant issues related to supply,” Caruso said. “And then the diversity of the supply – you may go there and not a particular strain that you need for your medical purpose.”
While New Jersey moves slowly towards a decision, neighboring states are catching up.
New York and Delaware are exploring legalized recreational marijuana, and Pennsylvania now has a robust medical program, says Bill Caruso of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.
“So there’s a lot of folks that are starting to look at this. Jersey’s been doing this for a while, so I think we’re still well-positioned, but we’re not alone in the market anymore,” Caruso said.
If a bill is enacted in the new few months, adult-use recreational sales of marijuana could begin through the existing six medicinal dispensaries. It would take time for new sites to be licensed, built and grow their supplies of marijuana, Caruso said.
“Once the bill is signed, once we get a bill done and signed, you will actually be able to see revenue realized in this fiscal year,” Caruso said.
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