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Lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that will launch a legal marijuana industry in the Garden State, overhauling decades of laws of drug prohibition.
Debates delayed the bill, but several compromises pushed it over the finish line in the Legislature. It will become law once Gov. Phil Murphy signs it.
The 241-page legislation (S21) details licensing for marijuana businesses, how products can be sold, employees’ rights to use and how it will be taxed. Here’s what it means for New Jersey residents.
Q: When will the dispensaries — the places where you can buy legal weed — open?
A: That’s not in the bill, but marijuana industry insiders estimate it could take at least a year before legal sales begin. Some say early 2022 is likely.
The current medical marijuana dispensaries can begin selling to the public once they certify they have enough marijuana for the state’s nearly 100,000 patients. But even that could take months, those in the industry say.
Q: How many dispensaries will there be?
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission will license future dispensaries. While there’s no limit on the number of storefronts, the law does state the commission can only give out 37 new licenses to grow marijuana during the first two years of legalization.
That could limit the amount of marijuana first available to customers and dictate the needed number of dispensaries.
Q: How much weed can I have? Can I be arrested still?
A: There are two bills headed to Murphy’s desk: one to establish the marijuana industry and another to decriminalize its possession. The second bill will not take effect until 120 days after Murphy signs it, but many pieces of the legalization bill take immediate effect.
The legalization makes it legal to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. Further reforms will come with the decriminalization bill, but neither make it legal to grow your own marijuana at home.
Q: Can I buy edibles?
A: Yes, the bill allows for the sale of certain edible products, but bans companies from making them into shapes of characters, people, animals, or as trademarked products that children may mistake for regular candy.
It also dictates how products should be packaged and labeled to show their THC content.
Q: Could I lose my job for smoking weed?
A: Employees will have far greater protections under the new bill, but they aren’t absolute.
The bill prohibits an employer from firing or refusing to hire a person who uses marijuana in their free time. But it does allow employers who have “reasonable suspicion” a worker has gotten high during work to drug test them and ultimately fire or discipline them if tests show they were high.
No widely-used and accepted physical drug tests for marijuana can detect real time intoxication. Instead, they highlight the presence of marijuana in the body, sometimes days or weeks after a person last consumed.
The bill also allows an employer to do random, regular or pre-employment screening, but it must include a “scientifically reliable” test of blood, urine or saliva paired with a physical evaluation to determine if the employee is currently impaired, as well as a physical examination by an employee who undergoes training to spot marijuana impairment.
Q: What will I have to pay in taxes?
A: Customers will see a 7% sales tax and a up to a 2% municipal tax when sales begin.
The bill includes a sliding tax to be paid by cannabis growers. It will rise from $10 an ounce to up to $60 an ounce as the price of marijuana falls overtime.
While customers won’t see this at the checkout line, prices will ultimately be passed onto them in the cost per ounce.
Q: Where do those taxes go?
A: All of the tax on marijuana growers, also called the Social Equity Excise Fee, is earmarked for restorative healthcare, education and legal aid programs in minority communities affected by the drug war. They include some of the state’s largest cities, like Newark, New Brunswick and Jersey City as well as smaller ones like Salem City and Bridgeton in South Jersey.
Of the sales tax, 70% of revenue will also go to such programs. The other 30% will fund the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and reimburse police department for training drug recognition experts, or officers certified to spot impaired driving.
Q: Can I come from New York or Pennsylvania to buy marijuana?
A: Yes, anyone over 21 who visits the Garden State can purchase it. That’s what many hope will happen, generating more tax revenue for New Jersey but also driving business to local restaurants, shops and gas stations.
But it is still illegal to take marijuana across state lines. This will likely be difficult to enforce with the high traffic between New Jersey and its neighbors.
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Amanda Hoover may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj.