New Jersey lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced last week that they had agreed on a plan to legalize recreational cannabis in the state. The deal comes following last month’s approval of a ballot measure that asked New Jersey voters to weigh in on the concept of legalizing marijuana but lacked details on establishing a regulated cannabis industry.

“There is a deal,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill, on Friday. “It’s been a long road and I’ll be happy when it’s done.”

State Leaders Hail Agreement

In a joint statement, Murphy, and fellow Democrats Scutari, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Assembly Majority Conference Chair Annette Quijano said on Friday that the plan includes strong social equity provisions.

“We’re proud to announce today that we’ve reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system,” they said. “This legislation will accomplish our shared goals of delivering restorative justice and ensuring that the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs see the economic benefits of the adult-use cannabis market. While there is still much work ahead, we are one step closer to building a new, promising industry for our state.”

Under the plan, all of the revenue raised by a tax on cultivators and 70% of the sales tax from cannabis purchases will be dedicated to social improvements including health care, restorative legal aid programs, and mentoring in communities impacted by prohibitionist cannabis policy. Democratic Assemblyman Jamel Holley, one of the bill’s sponsors, noted the significance of the evolution of the state’s cannabis legalization efforts.

“When the original bill was introduced in the Senate several years ago, there was no mention of social justice, social equity, and revenue returning to the impacted communities and individuals that have been affected by the War on Drugs,” said Holley. “While it has taken a very, very long time of negotiations, debate, and dialogue, I am very proud of the work of the members of the Black caucus and the Assembly and our speaker for producing the focal point of social justice in this bill. All New Jerseyans should be proud.”

Activists Also Commend The Deal

Carly Wolf, the state policies director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), applauded New Jersey state leaders for reaching the agreement, which came following the approval of Question 1 by 67% of voters in November’s election.

“The time for legislative action on marijuana legalization is now. I commend legislative leaders for finally coming to an agreement and urge the swift enactment of these regulations and an immediate end to marijuana arrests in the Garden State,” said Wolf. “Voters made their mandate clear; stop arresting our friends, family, and neighbors for marijuana and instead replace the failed policy of prohibition with a pragmatic regulatory framework that focuses on social equity and reinvesting in communities most harmed by the drug war.”

Under the deal, the number of licenses for cannabis cultivators will be capped at 37 for the first two years of legal recreational sales. The limit will not apply to small businesses with 10 or fewer employees that are granted micro licenses.

Also last week, New Jersey lawmakers agreed on a bill to allow possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. Efforts to pass that bill last month failed after provisions were added to the Senate version that would have lessened penalties for the possession of psilocybin. A separate bill to lessen the penalties for magic mushrooms will instead be introduced in the state Assembly.

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