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Reconciled New Jersey Cannabis Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

The final version of the New Jersey cannabis bill S.21 passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee today with Republicans and Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) objecting, making cannabis news.

“I still have concerns about the workforce safety issues,” Sarlo said.

He argued someone could die or lose their business in a worst-case scenario, which is quite extreme.

“We get real time-testing, and it solves all these problems,” he added.

“There won’t be any more amendments after today,” Judiciary Committee Chair Nick Scutari (D-Union) said regarding the New Jersey cannabis bill. “I have considered amendments from here to the hallway.”

Scutari noted there is great urgency to pass the New Jersey cannabis bill.

“January 1st is coming. If we don’t do anything, we’ll have a constitutional crisis,” he said, noting the referendum goes into effect whether or not a bill to regulate it passes.

“I understand it was part of the negotiation. Hopefully, after 24 months, it can be removed as an obstacle,” said State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) regarding the 37 large cultivation licenses cultivation agreed upon.

“There will be “a lot of clean up in the years ahead,” Gopal noted, along with Scutari.

“Nothing we do here is perfect as much as we try. I agree with Senator Gopal. I don’t like the caps either,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said, sitting in for others.

“No one’s worked long on cannabis legalization me,” Scutari said. “I got laughed at. People thought it was the stupidest idea they ever heard.”

Social Justice Issues in the New Jersey Cannabis Bill

Jo Anne Zito of the Coalition Medical Marijuana of NJ said access to medical cannabis had been limited, with limited supply, restricted hours, and strains. She also noted the high cost of medical cannabis. Zito noted an “inconsistent supply” of medical cannabis in New Jersey for registered patients has been the status quo.

Cannabis World Congress and Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana board member and consultant Leo Bridgewater said that with the amendments to S. 21, he is wary of the funds distributed to towns and their mayors.

“That takes away from transparency. I prefer that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission distinguish how those funds are disbursed,” Bridgewater said.

“You all have the eyes of the country on you now,” Bridgewater said.

He noted that Pennsylvania and New York expect to legalize soon after the New Jersey cannabis bill passes.

Social Equity and Cannabis Legalization

“It’s important that we set the new standard so that new states coming online, we’re all lockstep in moving forward and helping black and brown communities,” Bridgewater added.

“I would like to see that language changed to shall,” he added regarding the language, which made it seem that funding social programs from cannabis tax revenue is optional versus a mandate.

Tahir Johnson of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) lamented there’s no definition of “social equity” in the New Jersey cannabis bill either. While experienced in the industry elsewhere in the country, Johnson is a native of Trenton. He wanted them to remove license caps, making it more difficult and competitive for minorities to obtain a license.

“The reasons it is important, you’re looking at creating a new industry bringing billions of dollars,” Johnson said.

It’s important that “communities harmed by the War on Drugs have equal opportunity to participate,” he added.

“Caps do hurt individuals. Ideally, it would have been better,” Gopal said.

Making New Jersey Cannabis News

Stephen Smith, a leader of the Ramapo Lenape Nation, noted they are one of the three recognized Native American tribes in New Jersey. He wanted “long-standing historical injustices to native people” partly addressed by cannabis legalization. Smith described a model where tribes could allow dispensaries on Native American reservation land.

Nadir Pearson, the founder of the pro-cannabis student group SMART, said there’s a “clear need for repair for disproportionately impacted communities.”

Pearson took issue with the cannabis delivery license language. He believes it will be difficult for them, especially if retailers deliver cannabis themselves. Pearson believes they should be given the ability to deliver wholesale cannabis since that would give them a larger margin, along with retail distribution.

The “impact zone” definition has been expanded to account for the population size and crime index to include more towns.

Mary Pryor, CannaClusive co-founder of Cannabis 4 Black Lives, lives in Jersey City and has roots and experience in Michigan.

“My concern is that there’s not a definition of equity in the bill,” Pryor said.

Pryor said she has experience in working regulations and public policies and believes it will be an issue if municipalities have different definitions of equity.

Industry Impact

“We oppose the amendments here today because we don’t believe we will be able to ensure a safe workplace,” said NJ Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) representative Raymond Cantor said. “We need to do more to protect workplace safety.”

Scutari interrupted him.

“I have spent countless hours trying to create a drug-free work environment,” he said. “What you want is a drug-free employee. That’s what you really want.”

“Does somebody ever come at lunchtime or before?” Scutari asked.

“I assume those people are tested,” Cantor said.

That’s a big assumption, Mr. Cantor,” Scutari said. “You know what happens when you assume.”

Scutari said that if a person comes to work suspected of being high, a urine test is done along with a physical test performed by an expert. Individuals can only be tested themselves if there is “reasonable suspicion.” However, certain workplaces will still be subject to random drug tests.

Dennis Hart of the Chemistry Council also spoke in favor of a drug-free workplace.

Federal and state friction remains, especially in connection to workplaces.

Those with Commercial Driver Licenses (CDLs) could not ingest cannabis legally for fear of losing their licenses.

A final vote for the New Jersey cannabis bill is scheduled in both chambers for Thursday in Trenton. However, there is now a threat of a snowstorm that could make travel impossible.

A virtual hearing on the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee is scheduled for tomorrow at 11 am.

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