No sooner was the text of the marijuana legalization bill made public than changes to it started being made Thursday.

Its backers say the alterations were primarily minor cleanups, not major amendments to what’s now a sprawling, 163-page bill.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the latest changes have nothing to do with his efforts to identify the 21 votes the bill needs to pass the Senate, which he says he’s close to having.

“There was a drafting error. And as we get the bills, and that does happen, we read through them, we find mistakes, and we clean them up,” Sweeney said.

The biggest additional change revolves around ‘employer’s rights’ – meaning, for instance, if an employer has a strict ban on drug use, workers can still be penalized for failing a drug test even for legal recreational use on a weekend.

“And if the employer has a zero policy, they’re either sending you to rehab or they’re terminating you, depending on the employer’s policy,” Sweeney said.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association said that language had been part of the earlier versions of the legislation and said in a 1 p.m. news release that its omission jeopardized workplace safety. In less than a half hour, it had been assured the language would be restored.

Other omissions aren’t going to be changed, such as continuing to ban people from growing a small amount of marijuana at home for their personal use.

“Most of the states that have legalized marijuana do allow for home cultivation. It makes marijuana available to anybody who can grow a plant, basically,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey.

“Patients who need specific strains of marijuana for their illnesses, these strains are not always available in the alternative treatment centers, or they may not always be available for people statewide even after legalization,” he said.

Regardless, Wolski supports the bill, which is due to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday, in advance of potential votes in the full Senate and Assembly a week later, on March 25.

“We really need to rethink this absolute failure of a policy,” Wolski said. “Marijuana prohibition is ineffective, harmful and unnecessary. The sooner it ends the better.”

In conjunction with the legalization bill, lawmakers are also poised to approve changes to the state’s medical marijuana program. Sweeney says those include gradually phasing out the sales tax that’s now applied by 2024 or 2025.

“Our goal is if you’re going to treat marijuana, medical marijuana, like a prescription – I mean, which it is, you’re being prescribed by a doctor – that has to be treated the same as other medications,” said Sweeney.

The changes to the medical marijuana bill are also expected to expand the use of edibles to adults. Currently, only children are eligible.


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