New Jersey Senate Committee Advances Cannabis Legalization Legislation

The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee approved a package of bills Dec. 14 to reform the state’s cannabis laws, with full floor votes on the legislation expected later this week in both the Senate and Assembly, according to an NJ.com report.

The three bills voted out of committee include S. 21, which would launch an adult-use cannabis industry in the state following the passage of a voter-approved legalization initiative on Election Day; S. 3256, which would lessen penalties for the possession of psilocybin, or psychedelic mushrooms; and S. 2875, which would allow investors to fund cannabis licenses for minorities, women and disabled veterans.

The legislation now heads to the full Senate for a vote, which is expected later this week, according to NJ.com.

New Jersey Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced S. 21 Nov. 6, just days after voters approved an adult-use cannabis legalization initiative on Election Day, but lawmakers made several major changes to the bill after receiving criticism from social justice advocates, who argued that the legislation did not go far enough to support communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

RELATED: Advocates, Lawmakers Battle for New Jersey Cannabis Equity

Lawmakers reached a deal on the legislation earlier this month, after adding amendments to clarify drug testing at work and to direct funding to communities most affected by prohibition, NJ.com reported.

S. 21 establishes a Cannabis Regulatory Commission that will oversee New Jersey’s medical and adult-use cannabis programs, according to the news outlet, and a Social Equity Excise Fee will be levied on growers to direct money to “impact zones,” or communities hardest hit by the drug war. The legislation also earmarks 70% of sales tax revenue for social equity programs, and allows the state to issue 37 cannabis cultivation licenses during the first two years of adult-use sales, NJ.com reported.

“New Jerseyans overwhelmingly voted to legalize cannabis recognizing the injustices wrought by prohibition, and the legislature has the responsibility to meaningfully begin to repair the racially inequitable harms of the drug war,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said in a public statement. “Other states’ experiences have taught us that unless an inclusive and equitable industry is built with intentionality, legalization will still perpetuate the injustices and racism of prohibition. We acknowledge the great strides taken to build equity into this bill, and we know that the work toward justice is just beginning. While the work is unfinished, we applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for releasing the bill. We are committed to continuing the work with further legislation and regulations to strive for an inclusive, equitable industry and justice for communities of color across the state.”

The Assembly Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on its version of the legislation Dec. 15, NJ.com reported, and full floor votes are expected in the Assembly and the Senate Dec. 17.

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