Upon assuming office earlier this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy emphasized his intention to legalize marijuana for adult use throughout the State as a priority item. To that end, the State of New Jersey has already taken visible steps toward legalization, namely through the recent introduction of proposed legislation in both the State Senate and Assembly.
Senate Bill 830 and Assembly Bill 1348 (collectively, the “NJ Bill”) propose legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use for persons age 21 and over, and set forth a licensing scheme intended to facilitate the manufacturing, production and distribution of marijuana across the State. The NJ Bill would establish the Division of Marijuana Enforcement, a governmental agency vested with broad oversight and implementation authority pertaining to enforcement, licensing and general regulation. The regulations to be promulgated to facilitate implementation of the NJ Bill set forth, among other things, a proposed sales/transfer taxation scheme, in addition to regulations regarding advertising and marketing of marijuana products.
Introduction of the NJ Bill comes almost concurrently with the introduction of similar federal bills, Senate Bill 1689 and House Bill 4815, sponsored notably by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and co-sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The push for legalization also comes amidst policy change at the federal level, following U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions’s decision to overturn the Obama administration’s “Cole Memo” and issue a new memo, once again placing state-compliant marijuana-related businesses at risk of federal prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.
Despite being a priority item for Governor Murphy, the legalization movement has encountered some skepticism and resistance. According to a survey recently conducted by NJ Cannabis Insider, the NJ Bill would fail in the State Senate if a vote were conducted today – with only 5 of the 40 senators polled committing to an affirmative vote in favor of the proposed legislation. Another 20 members indicated that they would vote against the NJ Bill, while 15 were either undecided or did not respond. Several New Jersey municipalities have also joined in the opposition, preemptively passing measures and/or resolving to oppose marijuana legalization and the institution of cannabis business enterprises within their bounds. Such locations include Middleton Township, Wall Township, Toms River and Seaside Heights.
While the NJ Bill remains pending, Governor Murphy has taken interim steps toward legalization, calling for a 60-day review of the State’s current medical marijuana program, potentially resulting in large-scale reforms to the program aimed at expanding access and loosening restrictions on both prescribers and users. These anticipated reforms, together with the proposed legislation, present a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to get in on the ground floor of what appears to be a rapidly emerging market sector.