New Jersey is one step closer to launching legal marijuana sales as approved by voters last month after the state Senate and Assembly passed landmark legislation Thursday to establish a framework for the new market. The proposal now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) for his signature.
Both chambers of legislature also approved separate bills to decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of marijuana and reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin. The two provisions were once parts of a single measure, but lawmakers spun off the psychedelic mushroom component into standalone legislation after some took issue with pairing them together.
The marijuana sales legislation (A21/S21)—passed by the Assembly on a 49–24 vote, with six abstentions, and approved by the Senate with a 23-17 tally—is by far the most sweeping of the bills. It has also generated some controversy. Introduced by sponsors just days after more than 67 percent of voters approved a marijuana legalization referendum on Election Day, it ran into repeated delays over concerns about social equity, licensing rules and drug testing of workers.
The psilocybin bill cleared the Senate by a 22-15 vote, with three abstentions, and passed the Assembly, 51-22, with six abstentions.
The marijuana decriminalization proposal was approved by the Assembly in a 64-12 vote, with three abstentions, and the Senate approved it, 31-2.
The final cannabis legalization legislation is the result of a compromise announced less than a week ago by top lawmakers and the governor, and includes a number of amendments made in committees earlier this week and only published online for public consumption after the fact on Wednesday afternoon. Sponsors have explained their rush by saying it’s necessary to pass the legislation before the voter-approved legalization of cannabis in the state Constitution takes effect on January 1.
After the deal was reached, the governor and legislative leaders released a joint statement saying the revised 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.”
We have passed #S21, which will provide the most sweeping social justice reforms in the nation & shift NJ’s #marijuana policy. These laws will decriminalize #marijuana, dismiss pending trials, expunge prior records, & repeal mandatory minimum sentences. https://t.co/YMfn0orKbR pic.twitter.com/tJRvD6OsPz
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) December 17, 2020
“This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy. It will launch a new cannabis industry with the potential to create jobs and economic activity at a time when it is desperately needed,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said in a press release after the bill’s passage. “We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults.”
Among the most notable changes to the bill since its introduction last month is the inclusion of a social equity excise tax and a provision to route 70 percent of all state marijuana sales tax to so-called impact zones, areas determined by the state to have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition. The money would fund legal aid, health care, workforce training and other programs for residents of those areas.
Asw. @AnnetteQuijano on the passage of A-21, regulating Adult-Use Cannabis in New Jersey:
"This is a commitment to hope and opportunity, and social and economic justice for New Jerseyans – especially black and brown communities." pic.twitter.com/9hU2x1UeCZ
— NJ Assembly Democrats (@njassemblydems) December 17, 2020
.@AnnetteQuijano , @jamelholley , @AswTimberlake , @AswMcKnight , @JoeDanielsen17 & @BenjieWimberly BILL GUIDING REGULATION OF ADULT-USE CANNABIS IN NEW JERSEY HEADS TO GOVERNOR’S DESK https://t.co/pv5pteNlyd
— NJ Assembly Democrats (@njassemblydems) December 17, 2020
Sweeney, along with Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari (D), has also proposed a separate 2021 ballot question that would enshrine equity funding as a constitutional amendment and as a result shield the money from being directed to other programs as part of the state’s annual budget process.
While equity advocates have welcomed those changes, the ACLU of New Jersey and others say the new law still wouldn’t do enough to redress racial injustices of the drug war or ensure a path for victims of prohibition to profit from the new industry, as some other legal states have attempted to do.
Our work is still unfinished.
We have more work to do during the regulatory and budget processes and in future legislation.
We’ll keep fighting for more equity provisions that address the injustices of cannabis prohibition and build an inclusive industry at every level.
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) December 17, 2020
Jessica Gonzalez, general counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said this week that she would have liked to see lawmakers add a special social equity status for license applicants. “There’s still a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the tax allocation to social equity programs,” she said.
The legislation passed Thursday would give priority to applications for businesses that include a person who has resided in an impact zone for three or more years, or for businesses that plan to hire at least 25 of their employees from impact zones. Gonzalez and others warn that could allow large businesses to move in to a town and hire only a small number of local workers.
Another recent change to New Jersey’s cannabis legislation would limit the state to granting 37 marijuana cultivation licenses to commercial growers during the first two years of legal sales. That could benefit existing medical cannabis producers, who would be allowed to sell to adults over 21 as soon as they certify they have enough supply to meet existing patient demand.
Proponents of dropping the license cap, meanwhile, said removing it would allow a more diverse array of businesses to participate, including those with less access to capital. The legislation does not set a limit on licenses for microbusinesses, or those that employ 10 or fewer people.
Under another recent amendment, employers would be allowed to require workers to take drug tests based on “reasonable” suspicion of cannabis use in addition to pre-employment or regular employee drug screening. Drug tests would need to be done alongside a physical examination done by a person specifically trained to recognize cannabis use, which some businesses have complained would be impracticable.
Meanwhile, legalization advocates have complained that the legislation would continue to criminalize people who grow their own cannabis at home for personal consumption—unlike most other legalized states.
The legalization of #marijuana will usher in a new industry that can support over 40,000 #jobs while creating #economic activity that NJ desperately needs at this time. We are excited by the potential growth that this industry shows for the #GardenState.https://t.co/mRv6WavlEj pic.twitter.com/ggPM9fEG3L
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) December 17, 2020
A separate cannabis bill up Thursday for a full vote by the legislature would decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. That measure, S2535/A1897, was introduced before voters approved marijuana legalization but would nevertheless still apply, removing criminal and civil penalties for cannabis possession. The commercial sales regulation bill, by contrast, allows legal possession of up to a single ounce of marijuana.
The decriminalization measure would also allow for “virtual” expungements of cannabis possession convictions that occurred prior to the bill’s enactment and prevent police from using marijuana odor as a justification to perform a search.
“Not only are we decriminalizing possession but also first offenses for low-level distribution, a move which will offer individuals a second chance and ensure they do not become entangled in the system the first time they are caught selling small quantities of marijuana,” Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement last month. “This is yet another step towards bringing justice and equity to historically impacted communities.”
The marijuana decriminalization bill at one point contained a provision that would also reduce criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms, although it would not decriminalize it completely. That amendment was added by Scutari in committee, and then removed over concerns it could derail the broader decriminalization measure.
It was reintroduced as a standalone bill, A5084/S3256 and is also set for final legislative votes on Thursday. The measure would reduce possession of up to one ounce of psilocybin mushrooms to a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) late last month directed prosecutors to adjourn most marijuana possession cases until at least January 25. Legal sales could kick off early next year, and passage of the decriminalization bill would eliminate the need for most prosecutions for simple possession.
Sweeney, the Senate president, applauded the attorney general’s move. “Now that the people of NJ have spoken,” he wrote in a tweet, “no one should be subject to facing criminal charges for minimal amounts of this substance.”
Meanwhile, Murphy last month appointed an official to lead the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission that will oversee the legal marijuana market.
Also on Thursday, the Senate approved legislation to revise “the restrictions that apply to ownership of or investment in a medical cannabis dispensary and other types of alternative treatment centers,” according to a summary. The vote was 32-8.
Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.
The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.
“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”
I even had to rehang this one. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/NPuADtb1Lt
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.
It’s kinda flattering that they changed Pennsylvania law just for me. 🥺👉👈
Speaking of changing laws…
I’ll take them down when we get:
LEGAL WEED 🟩 FOR PA + EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW for LGBTQIA+ community in PA.
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) November 20, 2020
“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.
“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”
🚨🚨 PENNSYLVANIA *AND* DNC IS BEING LAPPED ON LEGAL WEED BY THE DAKOTAS NOW
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”
It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.
Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”
Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.
In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.
Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.
Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill
Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.
The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.
It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.
Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.
The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.
Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.
In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.
The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.
A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.
Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.
Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.
Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.
Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks
The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.
During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”
Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below:
“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”
The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”
“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”
“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”
Last month, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.