Even with legal cannabis, sales could be months away, top Assembly lawmaker says

The top elected official in the state Assembly said Friday that even with cannabis becoming legalized on Jan. 1 – should a bill get past Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk – New Jerseyans could be waiting many months before they actually go out and buy it at a nearby store.

“It will take a while for the rules to get drafted. It’s going to be months before we actually see the sales come about,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said of the vaccination process, during his monthly “Speak to the Speaker” radio segment this Friday morning on WCTC 1450.

“I think Jan. 1, it will look a lot like Dec. 31,” he added.

His comments largely echo those of Murphy’s, who suggested days after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question legalizing cannabis that they might have to wait up to a year for the state to fully roll out its market.

“Could it take up to a year? I think it could,” Murphy said on Nov. 5.

He continued that in the short-term, the state’s nine medical marijuana dispensaries could expand their operations to provide products to the recreational market, but they would “have to prove that they are not eating into their supply for their medical purposes.

“That could theoretically happen sooner,” he said.

The constitutional amendment legalizes recreational cannabis on Jan. 1 for anyone over 21 years of age. It calls for a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the new market, and tax sales at the standard 6.625% sales tax rate. Local towns can enact a 2% excise tax on sales within their borders.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari said the state wants to ensure a reasonable tax rate for legalized, adult-use marijuana. – DEPOSIT PHOTOS

Lawmakers have until next Thursday, Dec. 17 before they go on winter recess, and have vowed to pass the legalization bill by then, as well as an accompanying decriminalization bill, which would allow New Jeseyans to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana without facing a penalty.

The legalization and decriminalization bills are scheduled for committee votes on Dec.14 and 15, followed by full-floor votes on Dec.17.

As part of a deal lawmakers and the governor reached a week ago, the state would issue a cap of 37 cultivation licenses in the early years of the market.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, the bill’s sponsor in the upper house, said the move would help the state avoid a market saturated with cannabis products.

Another tax rate, coming out to a fraction of a percentage, would be levied onto the state’s cultivators, bringing the total tax rate to 7%.

Under the deal, all of the tax money on cultivators and 70% of sales tax revenue from cannabis would go toward legal aid, health care education and other social services for lower-income, minority communities that have felt the brunt of the War on Drugs.

The remaining 30% in sales tax revenue would go toward the CRC and to compensate local police departments for the training of “Drug Recognition Experts,” who would be tasked with determining if someone is under the influence of marijuana while driving or at work.

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