In a budget address this week, the governor of New Jersey proposes deadline for marijuana legalization. Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to legalize pot by the end of 2018, according to reports.
“I am committed to working with you to get this passed this year,” Murphy said in the budget speech at the state capitol in Trenton.
During the race for governor, Murphy campaigned on a platform that included legalizing recreational cannabis. Legalization would bring in tax revenue and reduce mass incarceration in the state, he said. Voters elected Murphy governor with 56 percent of ballots cast in 2017.
Already Counting on Tax Money
Perhaps counting chickens before they hatch, the governor’s budget includes $60 million in tax revenue from legal marijuana sales. But New Jersey doesn’t have any legal pot sales yet. Lawmakers will have to act soon in order to pass a bill in time for the 2019 fiscal year, as planned.
Bill Caruso is a cannabis activist and founder of NJ United for Marijuana Reform. He believes that lawmakers will consider a pot legalization bill while negotiating a budget deal.
Legalize or Decriminalize?
It’s not yet clear if the governor will succeed. He has the support of some legislators, such as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney is a Democrat from Gloucester.
Other lawmakers disagree. Sen. Ronald Rice, a Democrat from Essex, introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. The law would then treat pot possession as an infraction, like a traffic violation, instead of a crime. Violators would pay fines rather than serving jail time. Such a plan would also ease pressure on prison populations.
But in his speech, Gov. Murphy said lawmakers must do more.
“I greatly respect those in this chamber who have proposed decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and I thank them for recognizing the importance of doing what’s right and just for those who carry criminal records for past possession arrests,” the governor said.
“But decriminalization alone will not put the corner dealer out of business, it will not help us protect our kids, and it will not end the racial disparities we see.”
“If these are our goals—as they must be—then the only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana sales to adults,” he concluded.
Sen. Rice was disappointed that the governor did not support his decriminalization bill. Rice said that Murphy should visit poor neighborhoods in Colorado to see what Rice believes are the consequences of legal weed.
“He’s listening to policy people and money people around him but not people like myself,” said Rice, a former cop. “The governor and I…we should go to Colorado and talk to people in the hood.”
Final Hit: Governor of New Jersey Proposes Deadline For Marijuana Legalization
If the governor does not convince lawmakers to legalize pot, his staff may have a backup plan. An unnamed source told reporters that advisers to the governor will push him to take the matter to the voters. A plan to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the ballot would let the issue be decided at the ballot box.