Legal weed vote needs to happen this month, top N.J. Democrat says. ‘The time to get it done is now.’

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for

It’s crunch time for legal pot in New Jersey. So says the Garden State’s top-ranking state lawmaker.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Thursday he’s hoping to finally hold a vote this month on a long-debated — and long-delayed — bill to legalize recreational marijuana here.

Waiting any longer, Sweeney said, will likely make it harder for the measure to pass.

“It’s really important that we get this thing done this month,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told NJ Advance Media in an interview at the Statehouse in Trenton.

“The time to get it done is now,” he said.

One issue: Top lawmakers have yet to formally introduce the bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax the possession of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and older in New Jersey.

Sources said last month that the three Democrats who lead the state — Sweeney, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Gov. Phil Murphy— ended months of disagreement by reaching a deal on what the bill would look like.

But Sweeney said there is still one issue holding the legislation up. He wouldn’t reveal what.

Once the bill is introduced, both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — would need to pass it before Murphy could sign it into law.

Still, it’s unclear if there are enough votes in either chamber to pass the measure. Sweeney said “there’s a path” to the 21 votes needed in the Senate, but he needs Murphy’s help to drum up support from lawmakers on the fence.

That means Sweeney and Coughlin, D-Middlesex, would be up against the clock to get a vote done by the end of March. As of now, the Senate has a voting session on March 14, and both houses have scheduled sessions for March 25.

Coughlin’s office was less keen Thursday to call for a quick vote. His spokesman, Kevin McArdle, said the speaker is discussing the bill with his fellow Assembly Democrats to “address any concerns” and ensure the final measure is “responsible.”

“Getting the final bill right is far more important than getting it done quickly,” McArdle said.

Sweeney has missed a few self-imposed deadlines for a legal weed vote over the last year. But this time, he said, is more dire.

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