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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Senate, Assembly committees advance competing marijuana bills

Monday’s floor vote nixed in Senate

By Nikita Biryukov, November 19 2020 6:24 pm

Committees in both chambers of the legislature advanced legislation enabling the creation of a legal marijuana market, but the two chambers are still at odds over details, and the Senate cancelled a voting session slated for Monday that included only the marijuana bill on its board list.

Caps on marijuana cultivation facilities are the source of the impasse. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the chamber’s main legalization-backer, wants those caps eliminated, citing dissatisfaction with existing facilities and a low supply of marijuana that could prove a major hurdle to retail sales.

The version of the bill advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier Thursday raised the cap to on such facilities to 37, from 28 in an earlier draft.

Gov. Phil Murphy is aligned with the Senate this time, but even so, Scutari said the version the Senate Budget Committee advanced wouldn’t be the one seeing a full floor vote.

“Is this a perfect bill? No, but I think it’s pretty good. I mean, we’ve worked very hard,” Scutari said. “There has been a lot of input all over, for years, and I would imagine, if I could predict, we’ll be back here — after we get this done, hopefully soon — and we’ll be considering changes.

Today’s version probably wouldn’t be the last, the senator said, adding hundreds of requests for amendments came in after the first hearing on the enabling legislation held on Nov. 9.

The Senate Committee hearing, which started roughly two hours past schedule, saw lawmakers debate over employee marijuana testing and the absence of home-grow provisions in the bill.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Woodridge), who opposed marijuana legalization when Democrats attempted to pass it legislatively last March, and some of the panel’s Republican members worried employers in dangerous fields would be unable to truly learn whether employees were inebriated on the job.

They also wondered whether small businesses would be able to afford services provided by drug recognition experts. The bill provides funding to test public employees, but not private ones.

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Palmyra) questioned how the conundrum was different than the one posed by alcohol.

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver) asked why the law did not allow residents to grow marijuana at home. Scutari said it was left out because home-grow limits were unenforceable and over fears that it would enable black market sales in New Jersey and outlying states.

He said it would likely be made legal in the future.

The Republicans opposed the measure because of an excise tax introduced in the bill’s newest version.

“The people of New Jersey voted for and support legalization, but they didn’t vote for this bill,” State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) said. “This bill has been pushed and pulled in so many directions by special interests and legislators who want nothing more than to get their hands on a tax windfall.”

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