The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed the legalization bill A. 21 after hearing from advocates during its virtual hearing.
A hearing had to be held to reconcile the legalization bills which passed out of committee differently. A deal was made to address the differences. The legalization bill passed the Judiciary Committee again yesterday.
Chair John Burzichelli (D-Camden) said people could only comment on the amendments sent that morning, noting they already heard a great deal of testimony. Amendments to the legalization bill came out quickly before the hearings to those who signed up to testify.
“We’ve had legalized gambling for how long now, 40, 50 years, those processes are still evolving,” Burzichelli said. “There’s going to be some evolution to this.”
“Why don’t you ask the citizens of New Jersey if they want homegrow?” activist and entrepreneur Patrick Duff asked. “What happens If someone grows their own marijuana?” Are people going to prison still?
Assemblyman Herb Conway (D-Burlington) said that “Mr. Duff’s concern for those grown at home. I presume that kind of conduct would be allowable given the constitutional amendment, but it might be good to make sure that’s the case.”
“I support homegrow, and you guys aren’t even considering that,” said Josh Alcoba. He said large companies will want to come to New Jersey and small local businesses do not have the resources to withstand them.
“Time is going to take care of a lot of things,” Burzichelli noted, saying he believed homegrow would be legal in the future. He joked his friends studied cannabis in college without receiving credit after Alcoba said he studied cannabis at Stockton University.
“I echo Patrick Duff that this language should not go to the ballot,” advocate and attorney Jessica Gonzalez said.
“I applaud certain amendments allow micro-businesses to convert allow for greater entrepreneurship,” she said, adding that language broadening the definition of “impact zones” has been included.
However, there’s “still uncertainty since the social equity applicant status does not exist,” Gonzalez said, adding it’s common in other states’ legalization bills such as Illinois’.
“New Jersey is poised to be a leader in community reinvestment,” said ACLU NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia said, noting how much money has been allocated. She advocated for accountability in the budget process, though.
Kachalia explained the legalization bill language is relatively broad. An individual who has resided there a few years or hired a quarter of their staff from an impact zone could get a license. She said someone well-resourced could benefit from this.
“I agree with their suggestions and concerns the individuals not living in the impact zones can move in there and displace those who have been at this place during the War on Drugs,” Conway said.
Carl Burwell Jr. noted the need to ensure the money goes to social programs and noted does not donate funds to special office* which is supposed to address that. He noted no business development programs for minority felons are directly spelled out while the language around the police funding more direct
“We’ve been waiting for an entire year,” Travis Ally of 93 ID, a vertical cannabis dispensary seeking a license that has been delayed in the lawsuit holding up 24 cannabis licenses from being dispensed. He said they spent a quarter of a million dollars this year holding onto properties, as per the rules.
“I want to speak on behalf of the 196 companies saying we demand we are not skipped in line,” Ally said.
“That didn’t just go well, Burzichelli said regarding the 2019 ATC license round noted the issues.
“We might have to do something legislatively in the short term,” he added.
Provisions on Drug Testing Workers in the Legalization Bill
The pro-business lobbyist Raymond Cantor of NJBIA again decried the amendments that say testing workers now that employers must have “reasonable suspicion” to test blue-collar workers operating heavy machinery. He also wanted to know if labor unions could bargain to change their contract’s drug testing language.
“I agree with what my colleague Mr. Cantor,” said Ed Waters of the Chemistry Council of NJ on the issue of drug testing workers. He noted federal laws might require workers on sensitive projects to be drug tested. Waters also said he expected litigation on the issue, suggesting his lobbying group will bring the suit.
“Today we learned… the New Jersey Business and Industry Association is advocating for expanded Collective Bargaining Agreements,” NJUMR leader and lobbyist Bill Caruso said sarcastically since the NJBIA consistently takes anti-labor positions.
“I think you’ve done an amazing job on this,” Caruso said regarding the legalization bill.
He explained that diversity in the industry and other issues need to be addressed by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and not the legislature. Advocating for funding for programs will be part of the state’s usual budget fight, which has been very contentious in recent years, with a deal reached at the 11th hour to keep the state operating.
“Our work is not over even when this bill enacted,” Caruso said.
“We’ll have to feel our way through this,” Burzichelli said. He noted the cannabis referendum is going into effect in 16 days on January 1st, New Year’s Day.
It was the last hearing cannabis legalization has to go through before the final vote scheduled in both chambers for Thursday. However, a blizzard tomorrow might necessitate a change in plans.