Assembly votes to expand medical marijuana, keep taxing it
TRENTON — A major expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is one week and one vote from reaching Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after it was comfortably approved Thursday by the Assembly.
The proposal would increase the amount of medical marijuana that could be bought each month to 3 ounces from 2 ounces, allow home delivery by state-certified third-party handlers, permit indoor and outdoor consumption areas for medical cannabis and increase the number of growing sites.
In an effort to broaden the types of license-holders, the bill includes targets for minority-owned, women-owned and small businesses.
“This critical legislation, which would dramatically expand access to medicinal cannabis, is a potential victory for all New Jersey patients and families for whom medical marijuana would provide essential treatment, therapy and pain relief for otherwise complex and very difficult conditions that otherwise wouldn’t be helped with what we have for medicinal purposes at this point,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth.
“We have the most progressive, innovative marijuana bill in the country, where small regular people could be a part of this, there could be partnerships with universities and cancer centers,” Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, said. “Patients, universities, local businesses. This is a job-creating bill while really addressing the need of patients.”
The bill is expected to be taken up by the state Senate next Thursday and sent to Murphy.
Until last week, the bill’s fate was tied to marijuana legalization, but the broader issue is now on hold until a voter referendum expected to take place in 2020.
The bill was expanded Monday and advanced. Among the amendments: The sales tax on medical marijuana, which had been slated to phase out gradually starting next year and vanish by mid-2024, instead would be charged in full until being dropped on Jan. 1, 2025.
Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, said “it’s immoral to tax medicine” and asked that it the tax be eliminated immediately. Democrats voted down his proposed amendment.
“I just don’t believe we should be taxing medicine,” DiMaio said. “With the price of things now, it’s almost like we’re gouging or it’s a cash grab. We expand the program, we’re going to take in more money, when really we should just do away with the tax in its entirety.”
New Jersey has some of the highest prices for medical marijuana. An April report by the state Department of Health showed the aggregate average price per ounce last year, including the sales tax, was $397 without discounts and $361 with discounts.
DiMaio was one of six Assembly members who voted to abstain on the medical marijuana expansion, along with Bob Auth, R-Bergen; Joe Howarth, R-Burlington; Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean; Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester; and Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson.
Five Assembly members voted no: DiAnne Gove, R-Ocean; Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth; Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon; Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean; and Jay Webber, R-Morris.
Four Assembly members didn’t vote on the bill. Three were absent, while Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, was present for the session but didn’t cast a vote.
Three Assembly members who voted against medical marijuana when it was first approved 48-14 in 2010 voted in favor of the expansion: Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union; Ron Dancer, R-Ocean; and Matt Milam, D-Cumberland.