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Sweeney: 12 percent marijuana tax 'as high as I'll ever go'

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Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Senate President Steve Sweeney. - ()

The Legislature's top Democrats are standing by a new proposed rate of 12 percent on recreational marijuana, potentially dragging talks on a bill for legalizing adult use past the imposed Oct. 29 deadline.

As he was leaving a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting on marijuana Tuesday at the statehouse, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said the 12 percent rate is “as high as I’ll ever go.”

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, reiterated his support of the 12 percent rate, adding lawmakers were also considering a 2 percent excise tax, which municipalities would impose upon marijuana sales within their borders.

“I’m satisfied,” Scutari, a key advocate for adult-use marijuana legislation, told reporters following the meeting. “It’s a good tax rate at the bill at this point.”

The tax rate is one of two major roadblocks standing in the way of a bill moving forward, according to Scutari. Different drafts of the bill have called for a tax rate as low as 10 percent, or for the rate to be increased to 25 percent over a four-year period. The 12 percent rate is from a version of the bill dated Oct. 4.

Legislators are also trying to hammer out which government agency would regulate the state’s marijuana industry. Scutari, in his bill, proposed a new Cannabis Control Commission. Also an issue, he said, is how to handle expungement.

A provision in his bill calls for automatic eligibility for expungement, which Scutari pointed out is different from automatic expungement.

“It’s not an eraser where they just go in and erase your record,” Scutari said. “Expungement in New Jersey takes the form of a process, an application process, by which you used to have to go to court, or you do a lot of paperwork, and there’s individual input from all sorts of agencies.”

The bill would streamline that process for possession and waive the expungement application fee, Scutari said. A person convicted for possession would not have their records expunged unless they applied.

But another piece of legislation would deal just with expungement, meaning there could be three separate bills. As the marijuana debate stands, the Democratic leadership now wants separate bills on medicinal and adult-use marijuana, according to Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District and a key sponsor for a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana industry.

Vitale threw cold water on a planned Oct. 29 vote for a recreational bill, a goal first unveiled by Sweeney. He said the debates could drag on later into the year. But Sweeney and Scutari both remained confident that a vote would be posted in both houses on Oct. 29.

Following the Assembly Democrats caucus on marijuana, Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said the meetings were “productive and positive,” but declined to elaborate on any provisions of the bill.

“I would suspect that there’ll be broad bipartisan support for medical marijuana, but for adult use, I’m not sure,” Coughlin added, saying he too is confident of an Oct. 29 vote.

A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy’s office declined to comment.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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