In its lame duck session, the New Jersey state legislature has an important vote regarding whether to allow the question of adult cannabis use on the November 2020 ballot and from what I learned this past week, not only is much of the nation watching, but at least one of our neighboring states may have some hidden hopes that the legislation will fail and no referendum will be allowed.
I am really just a citizen observer regarding the happenings in Trenton and although I am relatively new to this area of the law, this legislation is of importance to me professionally. My involvement with this issue has come relatively recently when I joined a delegation from New Jersey in the summer of 2018. During that very well-organized visit, the participants were given tours of all variations of businesses which make up the medical and recreational marijuana industries in Nevada.
Shortly thereafter, I was chosen to be local counsel for Columbia Care which was awarded one of the six licenses in the last round for the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana in Vineland. Since that time, I have been retained to consult for another national company determining if it wants to make the significant capital contribution required for a vertically integrated project.
In an effort to continue my education in this field, I was delighted to attend the very well-organized conference hosted by MJBizCon during the week of December 7 in Las Vegas Nevada. At the conference there were numerous educational sessions for investors, growers, dispensers and exhibitors from all parts of the cannabis and hemp businesses. I did my very best to attend as many conference sessions as possible, the overwhelming majority of which were extraordinarily helpful and I am sure will redound to the benefit of my clients.
Two of the sessions included presenters which forecast the future of the industry in the Northeast , Midwest and Southern states. Much to my surprise and dismay in both sessions, the presenters opined that the opportunity for adult recreational use being made legal in the state of New Jersey in the near term was viewed as unlikely. One of the speakers gave a fair and even complimentary review of the efforts which lead to the roll out of medical marijuana but then indicated that he thought the elected leadership of the state would not be able to reach a compromise which would result in the electorate voting on legalization of adult use marijuana in November of 2020. Although the presenter was aware that the Governor and the legislature could not agree on language which would outright legalize adult marijuana use by law and he was further aware that the only other avenue to legalization would be through a referendum. Such a referendum can only be put on the ballot in one of two ways; one of which requires a simple majority vote by both houses of the legislature in the consecutive sessions of 2019 and 2020, or a much more difficult two-thirds approval of both houses in 2020. What was most alarming to me as a professional who hopes to create a practice area in the marijuana and hemp space, was the opinion of the presenter that the odds of obtaining a simple majority this year was unlikely and if so it would be nearly impossible to obtain a two-thirds majority next year.
When I spoke with this presenter and other attendees after the session, they all agreed that New Jersey’s loss would be New York’s gain and that it was a virtual certainty that New Jersey’s failure to act would turbo charge the efforts in New York and that the national companies looking to do business in New Jersey might quickly abandon the garden state for the neighboring empire state, resulting in many hundreds of millions of dollars going over the bridge to our neighbors to the east.
There are many others who are much better able to speak to the social justice and equity issues which must be address if adult use is approved as well as handicap the likelihood of for the passage of the referendum legislation during the last session of the year as well as in 2020. It would be quite unfortunate and ironic for New Jersey to abandon the regional leadership position it attained from the experience with medical marijuana and cede the adult use space to New York State. For those reasons, I am hopeful that leaders from all regions of the state and from both parties will be able to reach a consensus on this legislation during the lame duck session of this year.
Lou Magazzu was a Freeholder in Cumberland County NJ from 1998-2011 and the longest serving Freeholder in that county in the last 50 years. He also served as Freeholder Director as well as County Democratic Chairman. He served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties, was the Chairman of the National Democratic County Officials as well as President of the New Jersey Association of Counties. He can be reached at Lmagazzu@aol.com.