Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, intends to introduce a new marijuana legalization bill within the next week that would limit New Jersey to 80 retail dispensary licenses for the entire state, confirmed an official from his office.
The bill will be based on similar legislation proposed by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union.
“[Scutari’s] bill was a jumping-off point when we thought about what we wanted to do,” Gusciroa’s Chief of Staff Brendan Neal said. “[We had] conversations with advocates and stakeholders, people who’ve had experience in other states where legal marijuana has been approved — we found there were a couple of problems.”
Neal said that the new bill would address the issue of homegrown marijuana and an emphasis on expunging criminal records related to marijuana convictions, both of which were absent in Scutari’s bill and criticized by industry experts.
The bill’s limit of 80 retail dispensaries for New Jersey’s 9 million residents has been criticized by Staffa, who says number is far too low, noting Denver has roughly 800 retail dispensaries for a city of less than 700,000 residents.
Neal said they were aware of the criticism but didn’t plan on expanding the number based on what has happened in other states that offered more licenses.
“The unlimited proliferation of marijuana shops has been detrimental because it starts this race to the bottom,” Neal said. “You’re trying to produce cheaper products at a lower price point to compete with the influx of businesses.”
The 80 licenses would be distributed amongst the 40 legislative districts in New Jersey, allowing two licenses per district to distribute dispensaries proportional to population centers. Neal said the bill would set up a Division of Marijuana Enforcement which could potentially expand the number of licenses based on market analysis.
“While I think that number [of licenses] is extremely too low, the way I see it is a way to start the conversation,” said Brian Staffa, founder and chief operator of BSC Group, a company that provides scaled management services for cultivation, processing and retail cannabis facilities.
The panelists said New Jersey's cannabis business would not be deterred by the federal government, specifically Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Obama-era memos that signaled marijuana prosecution was not a priority for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“What the Lord giveth in the form of a beautiful plant, the federal government isn't going to take away,” said Joshua Bauchner, partner at law firm Ansell Grimm & Aaron. “No one is going to get raided, they're not coming by.”