POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Legal weed bill still short of ‘yes’ votes

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

The budget process, which is now officially underway, can be all-consuming. But Trenton has a lot more on its mind nowadays.

You have the growing tempest over hiring at the Schools Development Authority, which could become the next chapter of the unfinished Katie Brennan hearings, and now the eleventh hour of the legal cannabis battle. Six votes shy, at least in the Senate, Gov. Phil Murphy is on the offensive.

Some of his vote targets were at the Senate Budget Committee meeting Thursday, and from the sound of it, they remain unconvinced.

“It’s going to evolve over time,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo. “There’s no doubt about it. I have been opposed to it. I think it’s a societal change. I’m looking at all the merits, the pros and cons of this, but at this point in time I believe it’ll be a societal change. More and more states will come on board. I just think we need to take our time on this.”

Asked if that meant he was not ready for a “yes” vote, Sarlo replied, “At this point in time, I’m keeping my options open.”

Sen. Dawn Addiego confirmed that she had been receiving calls as well, but said she has concerns.

“I have public safety concerns. I have concerns on how this is going to affect our children. We’ve been hearing a lot about the behavioral issues that can come from this,” she said. “I’m still considering it, but right now I’m not there.”

Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez didn’t want to talk on camera about her vote, but she has been adamant in the past about the ravages of drugs on her district in Camden. It’s a safe bet that she is leaning “no” and getting her to the “yes” column is going to be a heavy lift.

All the lawmakers we talked to Thursday say they’ve been getting calls from the governor and others. But, it’s not clear that any of it is having much of an impact, at least at the moment.