Democrat Phil Murphy’s victory in the governor’s race Tuesday night drives New Jersey “full-steam ahead” toward legalizing marijuana and cultivating an estimated $1.3 billion industry, the sponsor of the legislation said.
Susan K. Livio | NJ.com
Throughout the campaign, Murphy has embraced the idea of making marijuana available for recreational use for people 21 and older. Early on, he made his support well-known that he would sign a legalization bill when it arrived on his desk.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who controls which bills the 40-member Senate debate and vote on, said his goal was to get the measure passed within 100 days of the Murphy administration.
Murphy has said he is also counting on the sales tax from legal cannabis — an estimated $300 million — as a key revenue source to help fund education programs and the public worker pensions.
“Assuming Murphy wins, it’s full-steam ahead,” state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the sponsor of recreational cannabis bill that is still undergoing revisions.
“The election of Phil Murphy gets us a giant step closer. Without him, I don’t know where we would be. He has a 100 percent commitment to it,” Scutari said.
Scutari said “it would be a waste” to hold another hearing on his legalization bill while Gov. Chris Christie remains in office. The Republican governor has called legalizing pot “beyond stupidity” and a public health hazard that could promote the use of opioids and heroin.
Christie finishes his second term at noon on Jan. 16.
Scutari said he continues to meet with people interested in the rapidly growing marijuana industry to make “improvements” to his bill (S3195). He declined to say what has changed since he held a public hearing on the proposal in June.
The revised bill will not contain a provision to let people grow their own cannabis plants — a request by marijuana activists and some people registered with the medical marijuana program who complain the marijuana prices are too high, Scutari said.
The law “should provide opportunity for business — an economic opportunity,” Scutari said.
Scutari also said he is trying to develop language that would promote cannabis entrepreneurship among minority communities disproportionately affected by arrests and convictions — another concern raised at the hearing. Giving anyone a leg-up in what will undoubtedly be a competitive marketplace would not meet legal muster, he said.
“I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it. After tonight, I will,” he said.
Photos: Aristide Economopoulos, NJ.com