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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Murphy six votes short on Senate weed vote

Governor refuses to discuss individual senators, says he needs ‘a village to get this one done’

By Nikita Biryukov, March 19 2019 2:08 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy declined to say which of ten Democratic state senators the New Jersey Globe has counted as no votes on marijuana legalization he would target Tuesday

“I won’t get into specific names. We still have a ways to go,” Murphy said. “We’re working the phones hard. We all have to pull our weight. I have no reason to believe we all are not, but it’s going to be an all-in. It’s going to take a village to get this one done.”

Murphy’s village includes Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

Sources have told the New Jersey Globe that Sens. Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), James Beach (D-Voorhees), Fred Madden (D-Washington),  Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham), Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), Ronald Rice (D-Newark), Nia Gill (D-Montclair), Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), Brian Stack (D-Union City) and former Gov. Dick Codey (D-Roseland) currently oppose marijuana legalization.

Sources said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) is a soft no. She is expected to vote against legalization if the bill does not meet the 21-vote threshold needed to pass in the Senate.

That leaves Murphy with 15 votes for legalization in the legislature’s upper chamber.

“It’s gonna need to be the senate president front and center, the assembly speaker front and center — I should say Sen. (Nicholas) Scutari, who’s doing a great job — myself front and center,” Murphy said. “None of us can take any vote for granted, and we’re not there yet.”

With a vote before the bill scheduled for Monday, March 25, there’s little time to whip votes on the marijuana, and should Murphy and legislative leaders fail to bring enough Democrats over on the issue, they’d be left with few options to negotiate the bill’s passage.

Only one Republican senator, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), has indicated a willingness to vote in favor of marijuana, but it’s not clear whether Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin would make some of the concessions sought by O’Scanlon.

Among other things, O’Scanlon wants the state to dedicate all the revenue from marijuana sales to county 911 system infrastructure upgrades, drug recognition training and opioid addiction treatment programs.

“Folks are asking for things that I would like as well that are not achievable at the moment,” Murphy said, speaking generally. “But, this is a huge step in undoing enormous inequities that have built up over decades.”

To make matters worse, some of the Democrats are unlikely to shift at all on the issue.

Rice has long opposed marijuana legalization, even going as far as challenging Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin to simultaneously debate him on the issue.

In early March, Stack told the New Jersey Globe he would likely vote against legalization in the absence of further public hearings on the subject. The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take any testimony before advancing a suite of marijuana bills Monday. Testimony in the Assembly Appropriations Committee was heavily truncated.

Stack said today he’s not ready to decide, which means he hasn’t shut the door on supporting the bill.

Both committees recessed for hours while awaiting amendments on the legalization bill. Many who had come to testify opted to leave, and the few who stayed to testify did so without seeing the amendments.

But, Murphy’s hoping those issues lose out to lobbying efforts being undertaken by the governor and his counterparts in the legislature.

“I have to say, remind everybody who’s looking at this who may have some skepticism. The status quo — if we don’t get this done, our kids are exposed, there are huge racial injustices, the bad guys run the business and they make all the money,” Murphy said

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