On Monday, top Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey killed a bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis. The move marks the second time lawmakers have pulled the plug on legalization this year. Now, however, lawmakers are proposing to put the question of recreational legalization on the November 2020 ballot, leaving it up to voters.
In a joint statement with Senator Nicholas Scutari, the lead sponsor of the cannabis legalization bill NJ S2703, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney said the legislation did not have enough votes to pass. Support for recreational legalization among lawmakers has dwindled in recent months, with some blaming Gov. Phil Murphy’s expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program for cooling support for full legalization.
New Jersey Lawmakers Hand Off Legalization Efforts to Voters
2019 seemed like the year New Jersey would finally legalize recreational marijuana. In March, Gov. Murphy, who had campaigned on a social justice platform which included broad cannabis reform, announced that he had finally come to an agreement with legislative leaders on the broad outlines of legalization. After months of closed-door meetings and tough negotiations, Gov. Murphy finally got the adult-use legalization bill he’d wanted.
Murphy and pro-legalization lawmakers, however, have had a tough go at generating enough support in the Legislature to pass the bill. Conservative lawmakers and anti-cannabis holdovers from the Chris Christie administration have remained staunchly opposed to the Murphy administration’s cannabis agenda. One Republican opponent of legalization, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, has argued that legalization would increase traffic accidents and that marijuana tax revenue was tantamount to “blood money.”
Despite staunch opposition, Scutari said that the New Jersey Senate was “closer than we’ve ever been” to passing a legalization bill this year. Ultimately, however, Scutari and fellow sponsors of NJ S2703 fell a few votes shy of the 21 “yes” votes they’d need to pass the bill. “We tried to get as many votes as we could,” Sen. Scutari told POLITICO. Scutari said that without a guaranteed “yes” vote, pulling the bill was the safest option. The bill already had a majority of Assembly lawmakers supporting it.
With support among Senate lawmakers insufficient and dwindling, the plan has shifted. Abandoning legislative efforts to legalize recreational cannabis, lawmakers will now focus on getting a referendum on the 2020 ballot. That will put the question to New Jersey voters, who will likely have the chance to vote for recreational legalization in November