TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The state of New Jersey could be just weeks away from legalizing recreational marijuana.
On Monday, lawmakers voted to advance a bill that would legalize the possession of one ounce by adults over 21, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.
Members of the public voiced their concerns about the legalization of recreational marijuana during Monday’s hearing, where Assembly and Senate committees debated and voted on the bill.
The bill has a long way to go through the Senate and Assembly before arriving at Gov. Phil Murphy‘s desk. If Murphy signs it, the creator of the bill said recreational pot could be available to consumers by January.
“We already have licensed facilities selling medical marijuana and part of bill is to allow them to sell legal marijuana to all those over 21 years of age, immediately upon signature. If they can certify that they have enough product to do it,” Sen. Nicholas Scutari said.
So, facilities that are already open for medical purposes could open their doors to the public by the end of January.
Companies that have applied to grow and sell go through a rigorous review that takes months before they are approved. Many are already in the process for medical marijuana.
If legalized, Scutari said dispensary licenses would be rolled out by the dozen. A council would be formed to determine the right number of stores to stay competitive and not flood the market.
So how much would marijuana cost? Scutari said the price will be set by the market. He wants it to be competitive enough to take out the black market.
Murphy campaigned on legalizing recreational pot, but the legislation stalled due to party leaders battling over how much the drug should be taxed.
On Monday, he addressed the plan.
“We want to take the business out of the hands of the bad guys,” Murphy said. “We want to protect our kids. We want to regulate the right way, and if we can do all that and make a few bucks, that’s conceptually something I’m for.”
The current bill calls for a 12-percent state tax and 2-percent local tax, the lowest tax in the country.
While supporters say legalization could mean big business for the Garden State, some are concerned the drug would get into the hands of minors more easily.
“They are not looking at the safety of our children, where a lot of these substances, these products are in the form of liquid, gummies and other edibles that are at risk of our children,” anti-drug advocate Peter Brown said.
Supporters of the bill disagree.
“People are ingesting, smoking, eating marijuana on a regular basis all throughout New Jersey. It has been happening for 100 years,” Sen. Scutari said in response. “This bill is not something that we’re suggesting to people you should go out and start ingesting and smoking marijuana. But it’s a recognition that people are already doing it.”
Point Pleasant Mayor Stephen Reid is planning to testify his town and other shore towns have banned together to create local ordinances which would essentially ban the sale of marijuana in their municipalities.