Hours after Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign vow to enact a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey went up in smoke, the Democratic governor said Wednesday he had a “mixed reaction” and that he was still “trying to digest the pieces.”
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced earlier in the day he’s ending efforts for the state Legislature to pass the bill and instead will ask voters to decide in November 2020 whether to make pot legal.
It’s a blow in the ongoing, often-dramatic battle to make New Jersey the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana. Legalizing pot was a major plank of Murphy’s 2017 campaign, and he and his fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature saw a voter referendum as a last resort.
Murphy said he did like that Sweeney, D-Gloucester, plans to move forward in the coming weeks on a pair of related bills — to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and to expunge the records of residents with past convictions of possessing small amounts of pot.
“But the devil will be in the details,” Murphy said at an unrelated public event at the East Windsor Senior Center.
“It’s hard to do it legislatively, I admit,” he added. “It’s always been a default to go to a referendum and ask the people.”