After months of delay and backroom disputes, state lawmakers are expected to finally begin voting next week on legalizing marijuana for adults over age 21 in New Jersey.
And it’s getting the fast-track treatment, even though legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy remain at odds over details of the legislation.
Separate state Assembly and Senate committees will meet together for a hearing of debate and are expected to vote on the legalization bill on Monday, Nov. 26 at 10 a.m., according to sources familiar with the plan.
The negotiations over the legalization bill (S2703) have stalled in recent months between state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Murphy, who have disagreed over the tax rate and whether a new commission should exercise control over the new industry.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he and the Democratic governor have not agreed on the bill. But he said he didn’t want to wait any longer.
“We have been talking, and it’s time to move forward,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media Monday night. “Hopefully, we can get to agreement with the governor.”
Sweeney said he favors imposing a 12 percent tax rate, plus 2 percent for municipalities that are willing to host cannabis-related businesses. He doesn’t want to go higher because he fears that it will allow the illegal market to thrive.
Michigan just passed a 10 percent tax rate, Sweeney noted.
Michigan’s marijuana tax rate is comprised of a 10 percent excise tax and a six percent sales tax, according to published reports.
Murphy — as well as legislators who supported earlier versions of the legislation — have sought a 25 percent tax rate. Murphy has declined to say publicly how much he is willing to budge.
A source familiar with Murphy’s side of the negotiations said Murphy and the Legislature are at “an impasse.”
“They haven’t entertained our proposals or sought to meet us in the middle,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A spokeswoman for state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, could not be reached for comment Monday night.
On his call-in radio program Monday night, Murphy said he awaits a final version of the bill from lawmakers.
One of the most strident opponents in the state Senate to legalizing marijuana said Thursday he is now “leaning yes,” and predicted enough Democrats will change their minds and make one of Gov. Phil Murphy‘s top priorities a reality.
Political insiders have said the “adult use” marijuana legislation has enough support in the 80-member Assembly to pass, but the reluctance of a handful of Democratic senators has stalled negotiations all year.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex and a prime sponsor of a companion bill to expand the state’s medicinal marijuana program, said he is likely to vote yes to legalizing weed for people 21 and older.
“In the end, the pros will outweigh the cons,” Vitale told NJ Advance Media.
Sweeney has said he would not allow the bill to proceed until he knew he had a minimum of 21 “yes” votes, and preferably within his own party. Vitale’s support could be a sign the Senate is closing in on that number.
At League of Municipalities conference, it’s clear that getting votes for tokes is going to take more than just lining up legislators.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney has drawn a line in the sand regarding adult-use marijuana legalization, but local leaders have their own recommendations and concerns.
“We’ll have (a bill) out of both committees by the end of the month,” Sweeney told reporters at the League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City, meaning a legislative debate on the subject could begin within days.
Hours before Sweeney made that announcement, local leaders gathered at the conference to hear recommendations from several members from the League’s marijuana taskforce. They were not overwhelmingly optimistic about legalization efforts. Mayor after mayor stepped to the microphone during the question-and-answer period to decry the process and ask for more details on what is still a nebulous bill. They said they’ve heard little to assuage their fears about tax rate, law enforcement, and potential expungements — among other issues.
Appearing Wednesday at the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said they want the vote out of committee by the end of the month.
“If we don’t have an agreement on a piece of legislation, then we’re not going to put a bill on [Gov. Phil Murphy’s] desk,” said Sweeney, D-3rd District.
“We put together a bill [and] we’re going to look to get that placed in a committee this month,” added Coughlin, D-19th District. “We’ll work hard to see whether we can get that passed. We certainly have the votes to get that out of committee.”
There currently are three bills pending in the Senate on marijuana: one to expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program; one to legalize, tax and regulate adult-use cannabis; and another to handle expungement and other social justice aspects.
There are no Assembly versions of the bills.
Within two weeks, New Jersey lawmakers could finally — finally — begin voting on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
As for whether a final vote will happen by the end of this year? That’s still up in the air.
The top two leaders of the state Legislature said Wednesday they expect legislation making cannabis legal to be voted out of committee by the end of the month. That would be the first legislative hurdle the measure has to clear.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he’s targeted Nov. 26 for a Committe vote at the Statehouse in Trenton. State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, did not specify a date.
The public would have a chance to speak before the vote.
“We certainly have the votes to get it out of committee,” Coughlin said during a panel of legislative leaders at the New Jersey League of Municipalities’ annual conference in Atlantic City. “We believe we will have the votes when it comes to the floor.”
If the bill does pass out of committee, both the full Senate and Assembly — each of which are controlled by Democrats — would then need to pass the measure before Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who supports legal weed, decides whether to sign it into law or veto it.
That process could take longer.
Tuesday was a new high for marijuana legalization advocates.
Michigan voted to approve a ballot measure, making it the first state in the Midwest to approve recreational usage for adults, joining nine other states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Missouri and Utah approved medicinal marijuana measures, becoming the 32nd and 33rd respective states to do so. North Dakota’s ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana failed, however.
Every single state that has legalized recreational marijuana has first legalized it in a medical capacity. In this sense, medical marijuana ballot measures can be seen as the “gateway” to recreational ones.
Alison Holcomb, the primary drafter of Washington State’s recreational marijuana initiative, tells TIME that’s for good reason.
“Politically, it makes a lot of sense for states to first work with marijuana in the medical context,” she said. “That gives people in the states time to get more comfortable with it.”
Despite months of infighting and stalled negotiations, New Jersey’s top lawmaker said Thursday the state Legislature could vote to legalize marijuana in the Garden State as early as next month.
“I think it’s gonna be soon,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney told NJ Advance Media when asked if it’s possible the state will legalize recreational pot use by the end of the year. “We’ll have the legislation done. Then you have to do the regulations and everything else.”
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told reporters earlier in the day that he and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, “spent a lot of time” over the last week speaking with sponsors of the legislation.
Gov. Phil Murphy said marijuana would be legal in New Jersey within his first 100 days in office. Now, it’s Day 202 and there’s no bill legalizing it to be found. As lawmakers debate the features of that inevitable legislation — polls say a majority of voters support the move to legalize — New Jersey residents want solid details of what that would look like.
At two panel events last week, New Jerseyans from different parts of the state asked experts and advocates on both sides of the debate how cannabis markets will impact their neighborhoods. The biggest issues that surfaced among many different groups included fears about outside commercial entities taking over and the impact on communities of color.
One panel presented by Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (NJ-RAMP), an anti-legalization advocacy group, was held at Stockton University and featured former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Another community panel in Camden was hosted by pro-legalization group New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR).
“The part that I’m struggling with is, we’re talking about legalizing recreational marijuana and the tons of revenue it may make at some time, but I still don’t hear anything concrete,” New Jersey Green Party co-chair Gary Frazier said at the Camden gathering.