N.J. lawmakers pass legal weed bill in historic vote

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Years after they began efforts to legalize marijuana for New Jersey adults, lawmakers on Thursday passed a historic bill that establishes rules and regulations for legal cannabis sales and makes the Garden State the first in the region to overhaul its pot laws.

The state Assembly voted 49-24 with six abstentions to pass the bill (S21). The Senate is also holding a voting session and will take up the bill.

It was the will of the people — who voted 2:1 in November to amend the state constitution and make weed legal — that ultimately pushed straggling lawmakers to say yes.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the bill’s sponsor, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, decided last fall to end the legislative effort to legalize marijuana after failing multiple times to garner enough votes and instead put the issue to the voters.
But the passage of the ballot question put lawmakers back to work to outline the rules and regulations for the industry — this time with a directive to pass a bill that focuses on social and racial justice.
In addition to passing the 240-page landmark legislation, lawmakers are also scheduled to vote to end arrests for possessing less than six ounces of marijuana or selling up to an ounce (S2535) and to lessen penalties for those caught with psilocybin, or “magic” mushrooms (S3256).
Legislators were under pressure to act quickly following the election, as the constitutional amendment takes effect Jan. 1. Without a law to stop possession arrests or steer the legal industry, some worried the illegal market would operate freely, and that arrests would continue but face a myriad of court challenges.

Even if Gov. Phil Murphy signs the bill quickly, work remains. He and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, must still name appointees to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. That panel will oversee the licensing process of new marijuana businesses, from growers to dispensaries.

Some estimate it could take at least a year before the commission establishes rules, awards licenses and dispensaries open to the public.

This story will be updated.

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