POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Lacking support, lawmakers cancel legal marijuana vote

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

The drama at the State House ended early when Senate President Steve Sweeney put out a press release around 12:30 p.m. saying he didn’t have the votes to pass adult-use marijuana.

It’s believed the votes were there in the Assembly, but in the Senate the sponsors were maybe three or four votes shy of the needed 21. Sweeney said he’ll bring the bill back up as soon as 21 votes materialize.

“Today we’ve postponed a vote on the package of marijuana bills and the expungement bill. I’m disappointed. I think we were making headway. I think we’ve learned a few lessons about the way we approached it. And look, if it was easy every state would have done it this way, but every state had done it, except for mine, by constitutional amendment. I want to thank Gov. Murphy for putting an effort in — a real, full-pressed effort. And I want to thank the speaker, and I want to thank the sponsor from my house, Sen. Scutari, because this is an issue that is not going away. We’ve made a few mistakes, we’ll fix them, we’ll move forward, and we’ll come back, but marijuana will get passed. The legalization of adult use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey one way or another,” Sweeney said.

“I remember sitting in this room many times before, making announcements that I was going to draft the bill to legalize marijuana in the past. We’ve gotten much further than we’ve ever expected. Obviously the legislative process, based upon everything that we’ve done in terms of research, is the way to go. And with the Senate president’s help, with the governor and the speaker all working together, I think we can get there,” said Sen Nick Scutari.

“History is rarely made at the first attempt,” Murphy said. “History is often a bumpy road of fits and starts of progress and of setbacks. But eventually, barriers do fall to those that are committed to breaking them down. Certainly I’m disappointed, but we’re not defeated. I am committed, I know we are all committed, to continuing the discussions with lawmakers that we began over these past few months.”

“He did a good job. These are good bills. They accomplish a lot, and I’m proud of the work that we’ve done and the bills that we’ve presented. We still have a little bit to go to enact the legislation. And we’re going to continue to work with the governor and the Senate president to make sure we get this over the goal line,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said.

“It was expected. The democrats were never sold on this idea because the bill was written so poorly. You know, 99 percent edibles, cookies, candies, gummy bears, pot bars and it really was an open door for big tobacco. We’re elated. We’re very excited about this, and really it’s going to have a ripple effect nationwide. It’s going to show the country that even in a deep blue state, this discussion and debate over legalization is far from over,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“I know that the biggest loss here is in terms of social justice and racial justice. We arrest 32,000 every year in New Jersey just for marijuana possession. The fact that this bill did not get voted on means that we will continue to arrest 32,000 people every year and derail their lives. There were people who were hoping, thousands of people who were hoping they could get their records expunged and move on with their lives if this bill had passed. They’re very sad today,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“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.

People close to the issue say the governor worked it hard, as did the legislative leaders. But in the end, every opponent of the measure had his or her own set of reasons.

There is an Assembly election this fall, which complicates matters. Interesting, then, that the hold up was in the Senate and not the Assembly.

The bill was linked to a medical marijuana expansion bill and an expungement of criminal records. Both Murphy and Sweeney said it sometimes takes two or three times to get a difficult and important measure moved in the Legislature.