Legal weed is dead for now, top N.J. Democrats say. Voters to decide instead in November 2020.

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for

New Jersey’s top state lawmaker announced Wednesday he’s dropping efforts to have the state Legislature pass a bill that would legalize marijuana in New Jersey.

Instead, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said, lawmakers will ask the state’s voters in November 2020 to decide whether to make weed legal here.

In the meantime, Sweeney added, lawmakers will move forward with two related bills that would “dramatically” expand the Garden State’s medical marijuana program and expunge the records of residents with past convictions of possessing small amounts of pot.

The announcement is a major blow in the more than year-long, ever-changing battle to make New Jersey the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana — a signature campaign promise of Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature spent months trying to gather enough votes to pass the bill that would make recreational marijuana legal for people 21 and older. They viewed a voter referendum as a last resort.

But Sweeney said they simply couldn’t secure enough support in the Senate, the Legislature’s upper house.

“There’s no sense dragging this out,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said at a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton. “I’m disappointed.”

“We did our best,” he added. “The votes just aren’t there.”

Sweeney said he expects voters to approve the ballot question next fall. Polls show a majority of New Jersey residents support legalizing pot.

“If you believe any of the polls, we’ll be successful,” he said.

Still, you might not be able to light up legally until sometime in 2021 because the state would need some time to set up the new industry.

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