Assembly leaders are discussing a delay to Monday’s quorum to provide more time for negotiations that have now stretched on, in one form or another, for three months, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
“Discussions regarding cannabis legislation and the status of Monday’s quorum call are ongoing,” said Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge).
Bills legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana use have sat on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk since being sent there on Dec. 17. Bills that sit there for more than 45 days become law at the next quorum of the chamber they originated in.
In this case, that’s Feb. 8, when the Assembly has its next quorum scheduled.
Murphy and members of the Legislative Black Caucus have been at an impasse since an earlier marijuana cleanup bill died in early January after members of the caucus raised concerns about its effect on Black and Brown youth.
This week, State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the legalization bill’s Senate sponsor, began exploring delays to the procedural deadline as negotiations continued at a near standstill.
“We’re trying to extend any deadlines that we need to in order to get this done and not have to start from scratch,” Scutari told the New Jersey Globe Wednesday.
The new cleanup bill advanced by an Assembly Committee last week largely resembles the earlier legislation but lowered fines users between the ages of 18 and 20 to $50 or $100, depending on the amount of marijuana, and eliminated ranges advocates worried could be disparately applied, including along racial lines.
But it kept in place — albeit under new names — non-criminal intervention methods for minors that worried some Black lawmakers. The new bill names them point-of-violation warnings and juvenile interventions instead of curbside warnings and stationhouse adjustments, but the policies, per the bill, are identical.
The LBC has viewed the new measure, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) and backed by two other caucus members, as a starting point for further talks. Scutari is unwilling to move the bill unless the majority of the state’s five Black senators support it. It’s not likely to pass without their votes anyway.
Unless there’s a breakthrough in negotiations Friday or over the weekend, lawmakers will almost certainly be forced to start anew.
The governor is expected to veto the bill Monday in the absence of a deal, and Senate President Steve Sweeney last week told the New Jersey Globe his chamber would not move to concur with a conditional veto. Instead, he said, the process would start from scratch.
If the quorum moves, so does Murphy’s veto deadline.
But legislators are likely to face an earlier deadline on Friday. While Sweeney can move a bill directly to second reading, circumventing the need for a committee hearing, such bills must still wait one calendar day before seeing a vote before the full chamber. A Senate source emphatically said the chamber would not quorum on Saturday, leaving Friday the deadline.
They could skirt those rules by moving the bill on an emergency basis, but that would require support from 75% of the chamber. The legalization bill passed squarely along party lines, and its exceedingly unlikely that the chamber’s Democrats will win enough support from Republican senators who have maintained objections over the bill’s lack of employer protections sought by business groups.