According to senate president Stephen Sweeney, New Jersey will not legalize adult-use marijuana this year and will instead plan to let the NJ voters decide in the presidential election new year.
The setback is one of the most recent marijuana legalization efforts and it means that recreational cannabis may not be a reality in NJ for at least another year. Even if the NJ voters approve the legalization in November, it will take weeks or even months afterwards to establish the legalized marijuana industry.
The announcement comes after the vote on cannabis legalization failed due to political tensions. The senate president announced that the NJ Legislature won’t be moving forward with efforts to legalize adult-use marijuana and will instead put the issue in front of the NJ voters. According to the senate president, while he feels strongly in, the votes simply aren’t there.
Sweeney said that the New Jersey Legislature will instead look for ways to put recreational cannabis on the ballot new year and shift its focus towards expanding medical cannabis and legalization. At the moment, NJ has the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country and most of the laws aren’t in the favor of marijuana companies and business, including NJ marijuana dispensary. However, governor Murphy has tried to expand access adding several new conditions that qualify for medical cannabis.
A bill to legalize recreational marijuana was originally expected to pass in March this year once the deal between governor Murphy and legislative leaders had been announced. However, a press conference was summoned to announce that the vote had been canceled when the votes couldn’t be found by the self-imposed deadline. The votes were simply not there in the Senate, even though they were sufficient in the Assembly.
Some opponents thought that the marijuana legalization benefits would not be evenly distributed among certain communities that had been particularly hard hit by the war on drugs, while others were concerned with the nature of marijuana as an illegal drug. Senate president Sweeney suggested that expanding medical cannabis was the main reason behind low votes for legalizing recreational usage. However, governor Murphy rejected that notion.
Rising tensions between Sweeney and Murphy likely made finding a compromise much harder. Their conflicting perspectives have made passing legislation quite difficult in the past and it is likely that it will continue to lead to many legislative initiatives withering, including marijuana.
According to Sweeney, before a 2020 referendum is pursued by lawmakers, they would will on passing the bill focused toward easing the expunction of certain criminal records related to marijuana. Murphy had a mixed reaction to the proposal of the senate president. He asked at the press conference, are we expunging something in the past which is still illegal? Criminal justice reform was a key part of the recreational cannabis legalization efforts, both for a host of advocates and Murphy.
Most successful adult-use marijuana legalization efforts have occurred via ballot initiatives across the country. Among many states, Vermont was the only state that passed cannabis legalization measure through the legislature.
Governor Murphy campaigned on cannabis legalization and promised that he would pass it as quickly as possible once he took office in January. Sweeney acknowledges the efforts of Murphy. He said that he knows how hard the governor tried but a list of votes was never provided to him in order to show that they were close. According to him, legislators gave advice to the governor but he didn’t listen to them.
Many Plans Stymied
60% of those who polled in the state last year were in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. Many in NJ have highly anticipated the approval of legalization. In new tax revenue, the state was ready to gain an estimated $60 million.
A cottage industry had come to surface in anticipation of legalized adult-use marijuana industry, with many seeking to establish marijuana companies, NJ marijuana dispensary, and other related businesses, including the largest newspaper in the state. New Jersey lobbyists had taken businesses based in California and Canada as clients. And while some towns, including Asbury Park, have been very keen for the new marijuana companies, NJ marijuana dispensary, and businesses to establish within their town limits, others opposing the legalization have already passed many resolutions banning such establishments.
However, the recreational marijuana legalization is not dead in New Jersey forever, it is still an option in the state. But for now, it has been put on the back burner and is likely to be directly decided by the NJ voters.