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NJ Senate Passes Bill To Expand Medical Marijuana Program

The Senate voted 33-4 on the bill and it now returns to the assembly

New Jersey’s Democrat-led Senate on Thursday passed a bill expanding medical marijuana services.

The Senate voted 33-4 on the bill that increases the number of cultivators, sets up a regulator commission and gets rid of sales tax on prescription cannabis by 2025.

The bill would have gone to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, but last-minute amendments were added so the measure is returning to the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the changes would require the state’s existing medical marijuana treatment centers, as well as the new ones slated to open under the legislation, to enter into agreements with labor unions to permit unionization.

The Senate on Thursday also scrapped a planned vote on legislation to make it easier for convicts to clear their records. The bill had drafting errors and will be revised, Sweeney said.

The effort comes amid stalled legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Murphy this week declined to say whether he’d support the medical marijuana legislation.

Under the expansion, the number of cultivators’ licenses would increase to 23. Currently, there are six treatment centers, with six more planned.

The measure also sets up a five-person commission to oversee the program, taking over from the Health Department.

It also makes it easier for patients to access medical cannabis. Under current law, only doctors can authorize the drug, but the measure permits physician assistants and some nurses to authorize its use.

Among other changes, the legislation would also end the application of the state’s 6.625% sales tax in 2025. Republicans tried before the floor vote to block the sales tax, but were rebuffed by the Democratic majority.

“How dare we use the term medical … and charge sales tax,” said Republican state Sen. Bob Singer.

Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a sponsor of the bill, said the sales tax helps finance running the program.

The measure eventually discontinues the sales tax for medical pot, but allows towns to apply a transfer tax of up to 2% on dispensed cannabis.

Murphy has said he has mixed views on lawmakers’ efforts now to focus on expanding medical marijuana. Murphy himself has taken regulatory action to expand the number of illnesses treatable under the program, among other changes.

What’s next for recreational pot is uncertain.

Sweeney has said he’s seeking a ballot question to legalize the drug. Murphy and Coughlin haven’t endorsed or opposed the notion.

New Jersey is one of more than a couple of dozen states with a medical marijuana program. Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot

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