New Jersey Assembly and Senate committees voted in favor of companion bills that would legalize marijuana and provide for the expungement of prior cannabis convictions on Monday.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 6-1, with two abstentions, to advance the bill, which was amended at the last minute to broaden expungement provisions and revise the tax structure of a legal cannabis system.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved its version of the legalization legislation in a 6-4 vote, with one abstention.
“When I think of [the bill], I think of two words: opportunity and hope,” Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D), who sponsored the legislation, said at the hearing.
— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) March 18, 2019
“There have been far too many people, especially those from Black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” she added in a press release. “It is time we listen to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and take a common-sense approach to regulation of cannabis. This bill is a huge first step.”
The Assembly and Senate committees also approved separate companion bills to revise requirements to qualify for medical cannabis in the state. And another piece of legislation revising the procedure for expunging various criminal records also passed both committees.
“This legislation is critically important as we move toward legalization of adult-use cannabis in New Jersey,” Assembly member Jamel Holley (D), who sponsored the expungement bill, said in a press release. “Without this bill, many residents would continue to be affected by the criminalization of small amounts marijuana as a result of prior convictions long after the laws change.”
“Broader regulation around expungement will give residents the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and clean the slate, enabling them to gain employment and seize the opportunities life presents them,” Holley said.
The committee wins come one week after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and leaders in both chambers announced that they’d reached an agreement on legalization legislation following months of contentious negotiations. Conflicting stances on certain aspects of regulations—namely the tax rate—were resolved, but the last-minute amendments caused hours-long delays in both committee hearings on Monday.
The governor also included legalization revenue in his budget proposal earlier this month, projecting $60 million in resulting tax monies for the 2020 fiscal year.
Murphy worked the phones throughout the day to rally support for the legislation, whose ultimate fate remains murky on the Senate floor, where the final showdown could come next week.
With committees in the NJ senate and assembly set to debate marijuana today, @GovMurphy has called "dozens of lawmakers and activists" today to push them on the issue
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) March 18, 2019
“There’s no question it’s going to take a village on this one,” the governor said. “I am all in on this. We have to get this done.”
“We’re going to have to put everything into this. There is only one state in America that has done this legislatively. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of this. We’re not only expunging and undoing a whole lot of social injustices but creating a new industry. This is not an easy lift.”
While the Assembly committee approved the bill first, it was less clear whether the Senate committee would push the bill forward. In the run-up to the vote, Sen. Kip Bateman (R) complained that the committee hadn’t seen the final version of the bill and said he would be voting “no.”
Legalizing #marijuana would have an enormous impact on all of our communities. Asking us to form an opinion without seeing the full details of the bill is an incredibly irresponsible way to govern. https://t.co/S13xYhukhk
— Senator Kip Bateman (@KipBateman) March 18, 2019
“Legalizing marijuana would have an enormous impact on all of our communities. Asking us to form an opinion without seeing the full details of the bill is an incredibly irresponsible way to govern,” Bateman said.
Sen. Michael Doherty (R) also voiced his opposition to the legislation on Monday, calling the bill “a deal with the devil that sacrifices children and communities for short-term political gain.”
I'm voting "no" on marijuana legalization today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal is a deal with the devil that sacrifices children and communities for short-term political gain. https://t.co/vODT0Nq1B7
— Senator Mike Doherty (@mikedohertynj) March 18, 2019
Before the legalization bill was formally debated by the Assembly panel, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) was given an opportunity to speak. He’s one of several New Jersey mayors who demanded that legalization legislation include a provision to automatically expunge the records of people with prior cannabis conviction, or else their respective municipalities wouldn’t allow marijuana businesses.
Baraka said that he wasn’t going to voice his opinion on the bill one way or the other, but simply wanted to reiterate his position on expungements.
"There should be no onus put on the individuals at all to go through any process to get this done," Baraka says of bill's expungement component, which requires person to apply for expungement for weed criminal offenses
— Daniel Munoz (@DanielMunoz100) March 18, 2019
“If we are going to legalize marijuana in the state of New Jersey, then we should remedy all of the folks who have been victimized by a war on drugs,” he said. “We believe that the onus should not be put on the individual but in fact should be put on the state itself.”
Murphy said that a “virtual expungement” process was achievable, and that did make it into the amended legislation, but he argued that automatic expungements “is functionally not possible.”
The legislation would allow adults 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase certain amounts of cannabis.
A five-member commission would be responsible for studying the effects of legalization and ensuring social equity in the marijuana industry. It would also be charged with approving licenses for cannabis cultivators, processors, wholesalers and retailers.
Marijuana deliveries and social consumption sites would be allowed, but home cultivation would be prohibited.
“Today’s votes are an important step toward legalizing adult-use marijuana in New Jersey. Although this bill is not perfect, we greatly appreciate the changes that the sponsors of the legislation have made based on the recommendations of advocates,” Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “While we are encouraged by the inclusion of provisions that our coalition has advocated for – such as expanded expungement – to better address fairness and equity, we are disappointed that there is no provision that allocates tax revenue generated by marijuana sales back to the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
New Jersey lawmakers previously approved a legalization bill during a joint session of Senate and Assembly committees last year, but the legislation in its original form did not advance to full floor votes in light of the ongoing negotiations between Murphy and Assembly and Senate leaders.
This story has been updated to reflect the Senate committee’s votes.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.