New Jersey Senate Cancels Vote on Legalizing Pot Fearing a Loss

Gov. Murphy Vows to Fight On
Mar 27, 2019
Source: Wikipedia


Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promise to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey went up in smoke, at least temporarily, on Monday.

When one party controls both chambers of a legislature as well as the executive branch of government, it would seem that party could push through just about any piece of legislation its leaders wanted.

But the New Jersey Senate applied the brakes to Murphy’s – and Senate President Steve Sweeney’s and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s – bill that would have legalized the possession and use of small amounts of recreational pot for adults at least 21 years of age. The bill was supposed to have gone to the floor of both legislative chambers on Monday. Coughlin said he would have had the votes in the Assembly. But Sweeney realized he didn’t, and therefore canceled the vote, avoiding what surely would have been an embarrassing defeat.

Objections to the bill include the fear of increased traffic deaths due to stoned drivers, the possibility of negative impact on minority communities, and the worry that pot could be a gateway drug at a time when America is experiencing a opioid crisis.

Some pundits blamed the vote cancellation on Murphy, saying the first-time office holder doesn’t have the political chops a more politically experienced governor would have. Traditionally, when tough votes are sought, governors – or presidents at the national level – would offer reluctant legislators pork such as road projects in their districts or, alternatively, play hardball, threatening to take the funding for projects away. It was reported that the governor didn’t start making phone calls and twisting arms until the week before the vote.

But Murphy isn’t about to give up on legalized recreational pot.

“History is rarely made at the first attempt,” said Murphy after the vote was canceled. “But eventually barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down. Certainly I am disappointed, but we are not defeated.”

“The legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey one way or another,” said Sweeney.

One possible way would be to revisit the issue in the Assembly and Senate, along with companion bills that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana program and expunged past pot convictions. But legislators will be busy devising a new state budget until July 1. And that brings lawmakers uncomfortably close to November, when all members of the Assembly will be up for re-election, not a good time to take a vote on a controversial issue.

Another way would be to put the issue directly in front of the voters via a ballot initiative. Of the 10 states that have already legalized recreational weed, just one, Vermont, went the legislative route, while the others all went with a referendum.

In the meantime, Murphy, speaking at a town hall meeting in Union City, announced on Monday that his administration will quickly move ahead with expanding the Garden State’s medical marijuana program, increasing the number of cannabis sellers and growers so that 150,000 to 200,000 people could be enrolled in the program instead of the approximately 42,000 who can legally buy, possess and use pot now.

— Rick Mellerup


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