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.
Shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy was elected, lawmakers said they wanted to get weed legalized in his first 100 days.
That deadline, at the end of April, came and went with little action.
Some lawmakers and advocates then set their sights on getting recreational marijuana passed by the end of June, when legislators traditionally take a summer break. It’s now looking like that deadline also will come and go.
As June 30 rapidly approaches, with little movement, it’s becoming increasingly likely that legal weed will have to wait until later this year. Here’s where things stand now.
The big, new legalization bill is dead
So far this year, two primary marijuana ideas have dominated discourse in New Jersey. The first is an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, which Murphy called for earlier this year in an executive order. The other is legalizing the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for adults at least 21 years old, along with a regulated commercial market.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Union County Democrat who has been leading the push for legal weed, introduced a plan that tried to do both, upsetting lawmakers and advocates alike. It now appears that Scutari’s plan is a non-starter.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, and three others familiar with efforts to push marijuana legalization through the Legislature said Scutari’s merged bill was not moving forward, as reported exclusively by NJ Cannabis Insider.
A long-awaited report on marijuana will recommend that New York legalizes the drug, the state’s top health official said Monday.
While the report has not yet been finalized, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization.
“We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker told reporters at an appearance in Brooklyn. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”
Zucker’s boss, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has long expressed concerns about legalization, last year calling marijuana a “gateway drug.” He has since softened his stance and ordered the legalization study earlier this year amid pressure from legalization supporters, including his Democratic primary opponent, “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon.
Do not count on legal weed in the Big Apple just yet, however. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the year this week, suggesting it will be 2019 at the earliest before legalization is considered in Albany.
The growing list of states that have moved to legalize recreational marijuana use includes California, Colorado and two of New York’s neighbors, Vermont and Massachusetts. Meantime, New Jersey lawmakers are weighing a bill that would bring recreational marijuana to the state while expanding the medical marijuana program.
Somebody kindly check to see whether there is a vacancy at the Newark Home for the Befuddled.
Because Star-Ledger Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran cannot fathom why skeptical, gimlet-guzzling lawmakers and their confused chorus still protest the unassailable logic of marijuana legalization for adults in the state of New Jersey, and here is his argument in this video produced by N.J. Advance Media.
Scale handy? Tom suggests you objectively weigh which drug – alcohol or marijuana – carries the graver threat of roadway tragedy, health damage, and death.
While we’re at it, lawmakers can come to grips with these realities: Marijuana isn’t exactly scarce, and during its illegal lifetime, it has only served to benefit the gang element, reduce the existing law to a sham, and foster a racist legacy of mass incarceration.