A joint committee in the state Legislature approved Monday a measure to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana.
Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 2703 in a committee meeting, following four hours of testimony and an hour of deliberation by legislators.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the measure in a 7-3 vote with one abstention. The Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee approved S2703 in a 7-4 vote with two abstentions.
"This will stimulate the economy of New Jersey like nothing ever has before," S2703 sponsor Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, said prior to voting. “We’re on the precipice of a historic event here, starting something and creating jobs like no other legislature has done before. We have that opportunity."
The measure still has to go before a floor vote in both chambers, after which Gov. Phil Murphy would have to sign the bill.
Murphy, while at an unrelated press conference earlier that day, would not comment on the bill, only saying that he was glad the legislative process has been moving forward.
It is still not clear if the legislation has enough votes to pass when it goes for a floor vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and a sponsor of S2703, said he has been making a case to Murphy’s office to whip up support for the measure.
Murphy and Sweeney have contended over proposed tax rates for adult-use legislation, with Murphy saying he wants a tax rate closer to 25 percent, and Sweeney standing behind the 12 percent rate outlined in the bill.
Proponents of the lower tax rate argue that it would push illegal street dealers out of business, and that a higher tax rate would push them to those same dealers.
Sweeney and Murphy have also butted heads over how the marijuana industry should be regulated.
S2703 calls for the creation of a five-member commission: Sweeney wants the membership to be a full-time position, while Murphy wants the membership to be a part-time role.