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June 21, 2017

New Jersey on fast-track to legalizing recreational pot in 2018

Gubernatorial candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno each favor changing states marijuana laws

Don’t spark up yet, New Jersey. But maybe next year.

The state's marijuana law appears destined to change in 2018 after Gov. Chris Christie leaves office on Jan. 16.

The Republican nominee for governor, current Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, supports decriminalizing pot, but not full legalization. On the other hand, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy has made recreational marijuana legalization part of his campaign platform.

The powerful New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee held a committee meeting Monday on legalization featuring a parade of more than 20 supporters and just three witnesses who spoke against the proposed change.

The legislation was written by the committee’s chairman, Democrat Nicholas P. Scutari, a lawyer and municipal prosecutor representing Union County. His bill would make it legal to sell small amounts – and ounce or less – to state residents 21 and older. The entire bill is here.

It currently does not allow for the home-grown production of marijuana, which some advocates argued should be included to avoid creating marijuana monopolies.

Scutari has said he will consider possible amendments.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has gone to Colorado to observe how legalization has worked there, is already on board. He’s said it appropriate to discuss plans now because he sees implementation coming in the first quarter of next year.

So, one way or another, Jersey laws will, at a minimum, change. 

But with Murphy seen as a prohibitive favorite in the governor’s race, complete legalization appears fairly likely.

“We firmly believe that NJ will be the next big piece,” Michael Bronstein, a political consultant with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp, said Wednesday.

Delaware has shown movement toward legalization, but then the push seems stuck in neutral now, Bronstein said. But an approval by nearby New Jersey would inject a missing sense of urgency there, he added. 

Pennsylvania, which just started moving toward making medical marijuana available, has no momentum on the issue, he added. State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties, introduced a recreational pot bill, but there's been no action.

Massachusetts currently is the state closest to New Jersey and Pennsylvania that allows recreational marijuana sales. Bronstein, who has an office in suburban Philly and routinely works with Democrats, said the “atmospherics” and “time” are right for approval in New Jersey.

He said his trade organization will provide “resources to bring the business into the market.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.