The state senator leading the charge on legal weed in New Jersey introduced a new bill Thursday that would bring recreational marijuana to the state while expanding the medical marijuana program.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari on Thursday unveiled a combined bill that aims to address the two biggest marijuana-related issues in New Jersey: an expansion of medical marijuana and full legalization of weed for adults. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is also a prime sponsor, Scutari said.
This is the first bill introduced that combines the two efforts. Scutari's bill calls for 218 total marijuana dispensaries, 120 of them recreational and 98 of them medical.
According to Scutari and a copy of the legislation obtained by NJ Advance Media:
* Municipalities may ban a dispensary from opening within its border, but the local governing body must pass an ordinance doing so within 180 days of the law's enactment.
* The 7 percent sales tax on medicinal cannabis will be phased-out within three years.
* A dispensary may create a separate "retail marijuana consumption area" on the premises.
* A positive drug test cannot be used as the basis to deny a person medical care, housing or a job "unless failing to do so would put the school, employer, or landlord in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding."
Scutari, D-Union, also introduced another bill that only deals with making recreational marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
Earlier in the day, Scutari had intended to introduce a third bill expanding the medicinal marijuana law, but he delayed doing so in order to work out details that would be agreeable to Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, the co-prime sponsor.
Vitale has said he would not support a combined bill and opposes recreational marijuana.
"The only thing the combined bill has in common is cannabis," Vitale said. "Each of those issues should e treated separately because they have different regulatory frameworks, challenges and purposes."
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has agreed to sign on as a prime sponsor of the combined bill, Scutari said.
NJ Advance Media reported last week that Scutari was considering merging medical and recreational marijuana in his new bill, and that such a move could jeopardize both efforts ahead of June 30, which is the Legislature's budget deadline and when lawmakers typically take their summer break.
"I'm going to give it a shot. But we are running out of time," Scutari said on Thursday.
Despite opposition from several lawmakers, Scutari's plan will have some support in the Legislature.
"I stand firmly behind Sen. Nicolas Scutari's proposal to merge the medical and recreational marijuana bills, and will be a vocal advocate in the Assembly," said Assemblyman Jamel Holley in a statement last week.
"The senator's proposal is the most sensible and streamlined way in which to address the issue, developing universal procedures and ensuring clarity," said Holley, who has expressed a willingness to be a sponsor.Scutari has been working to get recreational marijuana in New Jersey since 2014. He introduced a recreational bill in 2017 that went nowhere and reintroduced that bill in January, as pot-friendly Gov. Phil Murphy was about to take office.
Murphy campaigned on marijuana legalization and announced a major expansion of New Jersey's medical marijuana program earlier this year. Several health conditions were added to the program and enrollment has gone from around 16,000 in December to 22,800 this week, according to the state Health Department.
While the governor has been able to take steps to grow the program, he's also looked to lawmakers to make some of the more ambitious changes, like allowing the state to issue licenses for new businesses to join the market.