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New Jersey Assembly and Senate committees on March 18, 2019, voted in favor of companion bills that would legalize marijuana and provide for the expungement of prior cannabis convictions.

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 7-4 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.

“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 said 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. 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,” Democratic Assembly member Jamel Holley, 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.”

The development comes one week after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy 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 March 19.

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 by late March 2019.

“There's no question it's going to take a village on this one,” the governor told political news website Insider NJ. “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, Republican state Sen. Kip Bateman 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,” Bateman tweeted.

Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty also voiced his opposition to the legislation on March 18, calling the bill “a deal with the devil that sacrifices children and communities for short-term political gain.”

In an interesting turn of events, reporters were told that the Senate committee wouldn't be accepting public testimony on the amendments that were added.

Before the bill was formally debated by the Assembly panel, Democratic Newark Mayor Ras Baraka 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.

“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.

New Jersey lawmakers approved a legalization bill during a joint session of Senate and Assembly committees in 2018, 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 article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here.

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