New Jersey was almost guaranteed to become the next state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In fact, any betting man or women with absolutely no handicapping skills whatsoever would have called it a lock. But after more than a year of debate, rumors of deals made behind closed doors and pledges by the state’s top dogs to make it happen, the prospect of legal weed is in real trouble. Come to find out, there just isn’t enough Democratic support to get it done.
It was earlier this week that State Senate President Steve Sweeney pulled the plug on a vote for a highly anticipated piece of legislation intended to legalize the leaf in the Garden State. To hear him tell it, he had no choice but to abandon ship over the issue because there was just not enough juice to get it on the books anyway. “I may have underestimated the challenge of getting this passed,” he said during a press conference at the Statehouse. “That means in a way that we failed.”
This, of course, was a massive slap in the face for Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been pushing for legal weed ever since taking office. The governor’s goal has been to put little money into the state’s pockets, while also whittling away at the number of drug arrests the state was making for petty pot offenses.
“We have the widest white/non-white gap of persons incarcerated in America and far and away the biggest contributor is low-end drug offenses,” Murphy said during a recent press conference.
But the whole deal sort of got off to a shaky start.
Some lawmakers simply refused to side with the idea of legal weed for fear that it would contribute even further to state’s junkie epidemic. Others voiced concerns that legalization would lead to an eruption in stoned driving and minor consumption. More than that, however, was the battle of determining how to design a legalization scheme that would make everyone happy.
Sure, the polls show the majority of the population supports legalization, but none of these people seem to have any interest in the industry operating in their neck of the woods. There were also significant clashes over taxes, home cultivation and the expungement of criminal records.
Last month, Murphy told reporters that legalizing marijuana was a “complicated” matter, but that he felt confident that an agreement was on the verge of being reached. “We have said all along this is not a light lift. I’m optimistic, but we are machining it to get it over the goal line,” he said.
But Sweeney learned shortly before bringing the bill up for a vote that he had five “nays” standing in the way of passage.
It is a situation that threatens the future of legal marijuana in New Jersey, but, according to those with their fingers on the weak pulse of the situation, it is just a matter of time before the snags are dealt with.
“The bill has not failed, it was held. A bill fails if it was voted down. We did not vote it down. Listen, we’re going to work to get more votes,” Sweeney said.
Shortly after lawmakers announced that marijuana legalization wasn’t happening, Murphy stepped up with a pledge to make a major expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program — putting on more growers and dispensaries. It was a plan that stood to open the program up to nearly 200,000 more patients.
But he has since decided to hold off on the expansion while lawmakers work out their differences on the adult-use bill. There is apparently some concern that taking the medical sector up a notch might thwart the recreational measure even more.
There will likely be tweaks to the recreational marijuana bill to drum up more Democratic support. However, lawmakers aren’t saying which parts of it are destined to go on the chopping block.
If everything goes smoothly from this point forward, lawmakers could take up the issue again in May. Will it happen? Well, let’s just say that Murphy haven’t given up.
“I’m disappointed, but we’re not defeated,” he said. “I am committed, I know we are all committed, to continuing the discussions with lawmakers that we began over these past few months.”
TELL US, do you have access to adult-use cannabis where you live?