The New Jersey Senate and Assembly are due to vote on a bill that would make recreational cannabis legal in the state next Monday. Will it pass? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Here’s what we know: Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have their work cut out for them when it comes to getting the bill passed. New Jersey Republicans have proven to be tough opposition for the legalization movement, even when the pro-pot camp has many factors on their side; a broken criminal justice system and the promise of a billion dollar industry and the taxes that go along with it, to start.
“I won’t get into specific names,” Gov. Murphy told the press on Tuesday. “We still have a ways to go, let me just say that.” In the New Jersey Senate, there are 26 Democrats, and the legislation needs 21 of them to vote in favor of the bill to pass. The problem is that some of the party’s players, like Declan O’Scanlon and Kip Bateman, have told media outlets that they will not be voting in the affirmative.
If the legislation does not pass Monday, the Governor has said that it will not be taken up again until the fall. Next week, the state’s lawmakers go on break for three months in order to work on a state budget package, and the governor has commented that “Trying to move a marijuana bill during a budget break is not heathy.”
Last Monday, the sweeping legislation — the bill’s text runs a smooth 175 pages — passed committee approval. A slew of amendments meant that the crowd of opponents and advocates that have gathered had to wait until after 6 p.m. to testify, at which point the proposed legislation’s final version had not yet been seen by the public. Most of the citizens who had assembled to testify were sent away without having spoken — the Assembly’s committee allowed only 25 minutes of public opinion, while the Senate committee declined to hear any testimony at all, provoking censure.
But some of the last-minute additions to the bill did strengthen it as a corrective to decades of racially biased policing — essential in a state that sees Black residents arrested at three times higher rates than white, even when cannabis usage rates are consistent across racial demographics. One of the last-minute provisions allows for individuals in prison or on parole or probation to be be able to vacate or dismiss their cannabis charges.
Should the bill pass next week, the Governor and Senate President have surmised that cannabis sales could start by the beginning of next year. But should marijuana advocates fail to find the votes they need, New Jersey lawmakers also have the option of passing legalization off to the voters, who in February were polled by Monmouth University as being in favor of regulating recreational cannabis 62 to 32 percent. When asked about this option, Senate President Sweeney expressed reluctance to dodge the legislative showdown, explaining that voter initiatives require future initiatives should legislation need to be altered — a likely prospect when it comes to a program as complicated as cannabis legalization.