Gov. Phil Murphy isn’t giving up hope for a marijuana cleanup bill after a previous effort stalled over objections launched by black and Latino legislators Friday that charged penalties for underage use in the now-defunct bill would negatively, and disproportionally, affect black and Latino youths.
“We knew this wouldn’t be easy, and I’m still optimistic we’ll figure something out,” Murphy said at an unrelated press conference Monday morning.
The governor declined to say whether he would sign marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills absent a separate measure outlining penalties for underage use, as legislators called for last week.
The cleanup bill went into the dirt Friday after objections from top lawmakers on marijuana and from the Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses.
State Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) pulled their names from the cleanup bill Friday, just days before the measure, which cleared committees in both chambers last week, was due for full votes.
“I could never lend my name to something that could potentially have unintended consequence that could send more black and brown juveniles into a system that will handcuff them for the rest of their lives,” Ruiz told the New Jersey Globe Friday.
The cleanup bill would have levied fines of up to $250 on individuals aged 18 to 20 who possessed less than six ounces of marijuana. Those fines capped out at $500 for adults under the age of 21 who carried more than six ounces, the limit under the legalization bill.
For minors, the bill limited police to “curbside warnings” and “stationhouse adjustments” when dealing with minors found in possession of marijuana.
Lawmakers said those measures would lead to more — potentially fatal — interactions between police and the state’s non-white residents.
Murphy said he’d been in talks with legislative leaders about the issue. He said he spoke to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin Friday and with Senate President Steve Sweeney before Monday’s press conference.
“I’d say two principles that haven’t changed from the beginning. One is we don’t want more of our youth entangled in the criminal justice system,” Murphy said. “We feel passionately about that. At the same time, it was never anyone’s intention to legalize marijuana recreational use for kids.”
The governor and his staff have also put out some lines to members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“Our teams have over the weekend, either to them directly or to their staffs, and I’ve had some exchanges as well,” he said when asked if he’d contacted legislators who led the push against the cleanup bill.