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The New Jersey Legislature passed the legal cannabis clean-up bill after weeks of debate. The Assembly passed it 47-26- with 3 abstentions and the Senate passed it 22-12.

Governor Phil Murphy will likely sign the bills later today. The bill was needed to address a discrepancy on what should be done about youth possession of cannabis. Ultimately, light penalties were imposed that amount to a warning for a first offense.

The Assembly moved its session from 1 pm to 9 am, and the vote was taken earlier than initially expected.

The bill, A. 5342, “Revises consequences for underage possession or consumption of various forms of cannabis included in legislation passed by both Houses of Legislature; requires AG reports, reviewable by task force, on law enforcement interactions on underage violations,” was sponsored by Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic) and Annette Chaparro (D-Hudson).

Among the Assembly abstentions were Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), who has a financial interest in Garden State Dispensary, Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union), and Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Morris). Herb Conway (D-Burlington), who activists blame for removing homegrow from the CUMMA medical cannabis law, didn’t vote for it, nor did Ralph Caputo (D-Essex). Most Republicans voted against it.

Legal Cannabis Debated in NJ Senate

The NJ Senate took more time to debate the bill after the Judiciary Committee passed the legal cannabis clean-up bill on Friday after a tumultuous week.

“This a momentous day, but I’ve already said that before,” legal cannabis sponsor Nick Scutari (D-Union) said, arguing it “criminalizes whole segments of society.”

“No one is happy, and nothing is ever perfect,” Scutari explained. “This is a topic that needs to be behind us. New Jersey needs our attention on other issues.”

“There is no doubt that issues will pop up that we will need to address. “This is the best we’re going to get at this point,” Scutari said.

He said he believed the underage provisions offer proper protection for young people and frees up law enforcement and the judicial system to deal with more important issues.

Scutari noted the enabling bill and decriminalized bill have been sitting on the governor’s desk “for months and months.”

Senator Robert Singer (R-Ocean) noted he vote for medical cannabis and co-sponsored the decriminalization bill with Ron Rice (D-Essex).

“I think this criminalizes police,” he said, arguing cops will be afraid to do their jobs due to the new amendments. Singer said the bill nullifies home rule, which gives towns great autonomy versus the state. It is very highly prioritized and loved in New Jersey. He said people would smuggle beer and cannabis to the beach and continue drinking and smoking after being warned.

Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) argued against the clean-up bill using many of Rice’s old arguments.

Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) said it’s hard to get an officer convicted for racial bias since it must have been “knowingly” done.

Senator Nia Gill (D-Essex) argued in favor of qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity offenses are no longer even allowed in the state of Colorado.  We have used Colorado as a framework for our own legalization, doing so under the guise of social justice. Eliminating qualified immunity in this would have allowed us to take a step forward like to Colorado to take a real step forward for social justice,” she said.

Ron Rice (D-Essex) voted for the bill’s amendments that make it more progressive and passed 22-99. He then argued that qualified immunity stops the prosecution of officers who abused min children. Rice offered an amendment to include that. Weinberg moved to table his amendment, which passed 26-8.

“Today is anything but momentous,” said Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen). “Unfortunately, all of us in elected office in both the administration and legislature bungled this process. It’s taken us three months, and we’re being asked to consider a clean-up bill before the initial legislation was signed.”

Sarlo continued his arguments from the legalization hearings that pro-employer provisions are needed to stop people from smoking in industries like healthcare and construction to protect the public.

“I’m very concerned about tying the hands of our local police depts,” he added, arguing it could hurt fighting gangs. “This process has been a debacle from the beginning.”

Sarlo argued the effects of COVID, schools, and the economy need to be focused on instead of legal cannabis.

“The legislature has for decades disenfranchised the communities we represent. Yes, this has been a long process,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex). She argued Murphy should have signed the decrim bill she sponsored already.

Ruiz noted there will be a bad double standard between dispensary legal cannabis and street cannabis which is something that NJWeedman has also argued. This is the case throughout the legalized states.

She argued parks and community programs along with good schools provide deterrence for youth from smoking.

Rice noted he argued with Sarlo on the pro-employer positions and further argued for qualified immunity.

Adult-use Homegrow Sponsor Gerry Carindale Dead

Senator Gerry Cardinale (R-Bergen) died over the weekend at the age of 86. Cardinale had been a fierce opponent of legalization before the referendum, after which he sponsored an adult-use homegrow bill, pending the signature of the other bills.

“Tammy and I are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Gerry Cardinale, a true public servant. Senator Cardinale’s 54-year record of public service to the state of New Jersey speaks to the level of trust his constituents placed in him. Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues in the Legislature. All flags will be lowered to half-staff on Monday when the Senate returns to session.” Governor Phil Murphy said.

“Gerry was a well-respected legislator for over four decades. He was known for his diplomacy, tact, passion and integrity. He will be greatly missed. His passing is a loss for the Legislature, his constituents and most importantly his family,” Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said. “I offer my deepest condolences to Gerry’s wife of 62 years, Carole, his five children and the entire Cardinale family May he rest in peace.”

Cardinale’s name was accidentally called in the roll call in the Senate on Monday.

Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) made it a point to come out against the bill before the votes on Monday.

“Once again Democrats take something that should be easy and common sense, take it to the nth degree and turn it into a mess that any reasonable legislator has to scratch their head and vote no on. There was no public testimony despite amendments with serious implications. What is the goal of this bill? I thought it was to stop youth arrests and dissuade youth use? It appears that the purpose of this bill is to jam up police and seek retribution on law enforcement for trying to do their jobs. It is malicious,” he said.

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