Gov. Phil Murphy lost his bid to legalize marijuana today after he was unable to swing more than three votes in the State Senate since coming to an agreement with legislative leaders more than five weeks ago.
Senate President Steve Sweeney announced today that he was pulling the bill after it became clear there was no path to 21 votes in the Senate today. This ended six days of intense lobbying by the governor following his return from a short vacation in Puerto Rico.
At the start of the day, it appeared that just sixteen senators were prepared to support the cannabis measure, leaving Murphy five votes short.
Murphy got a tentative yes from one Republican senator, Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), after agreeing to concessions that would dedicate some of the revenues to tax relief.
But support from O’Scanlon came after pivotal Republicans like Bob Singer (R-Lakewood) and Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) had already made their opposition public. Had Murphy brought O’Scanlon on board earlier that might have influenced Singer and Bateman.
Murphy was able to gain commitments from two Hudson County Democrats, Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) and Brian Stack (D-Union City) but failed to move two critical votes in Bergen from Democrats Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus).
There were some indications that Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Barrington) was preparing to move into the yes column, but that would have only brought Murphy to seventeen – still four short.
Out of South Jersey, the cannabis legislation had the backing of just Sweeney and Troy Singleton (D-Delran).
Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) faces voters in a November special election in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats that Donald Trump won with 55% of the vote. He was never going to vote yes. Fred Madden (D-Washington) is a former New Jersey State Police superintendent who personally opposes legal weed for recreational purposes.
Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham), who switched parties in January, became a hard no last week despite efforts by the governor to flip her vote. She had abstained in committee last year as a Republican and this year as a Democrat.
Even if Addiego and James Beach (D-Voorhees) had switched from no to yes, Murphy would still have been stuck at nineteen – not enough without Sarlo or Lagana – or Singer, who received an extra $15 million for Lakewood school funding without any strings attached.
Codey recently obtained a commitment for $100 million in funding for the state’s horse racing industry and still opposed Murphy on his top legislative initiative.
The killer for Murphy was his inability to sway some of his closest allies in the Senate who had been definite no votes from the start: former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), Nia Gill (D-Montclair), Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence). He was never going to get another ally, Ronald Rice (D-Newark), a fierce and outspoken opponent of the legalization of marijuana.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin had at least 41 votes in the Assembly to pass the measure, but only if the Senate got to 21.
Interestingly, Murphy allies did not use New Direction New Jersey, a non-profit advocacy group, to help move senate votes into the affirmative column.