New Jersey Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Legalize Cannabis

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey governor-elect Phil Murphy doesn’t succeed Chris Christie until next week, but already his fellow Democrats have introduced legislation to achieve one of his campaign promises, legalizing marijuana.

Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced the measure allowing the recreational use of marijuana by those 21 and older on Tuesday, the same day the new session of the Democrat-led Legislature convened.

“I think it's going to be difficult for the federal government, especially without local law enforcement, to close it down.”
Sen. Nicholas Scutari

The Justice Department last week overturned Obama administration guidelines that federal prosecutors shouldn’t interfere with states allowing people to legally use cannabis, but doesn’t change anything for New Jersey, Scutari said.

“We’re still going to move forward,” he said. “I think it’s going to be difficult for the federal government, especially without local law enforcement, to close it down.”

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Murphy campaigned and won in November on a promise to legalize recreational marijuana. He has said legalization could bring in roughly $300 million in new revenue. New Jersey already has a medical cannabis program.

Christie, a Republican, has been a vocal opponent of legalization, referring to the prospect of tax revenue from marijuana as “blood money.”

The legislation is identical to a measure introduced in the previous session that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana for those at least 21. It permits possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solids, 72 ounces in liquid form, 7 grams of concentrate and up to six immature plants.

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The legislation would establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement, charged with regulating the industry. The legislation also would establish a sales tax on marijuana that would rise incrementally from 7 percent to 25 percent over five years to encourage early participation, Scutari said.

The public seems to be behind the effort. A September 2017 Quinnipiac University poll showed that 59 percent of residents approved of marijuana legalization. The poll surveyed 1,121 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.

Eights states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Vermont’s Legislature this week gave final approval to a measure legalizing marijuana, and the governor has indicated he would sign it.