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Senate President Steve Sweeney. Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Marijuana legalization lobbying hasn’t begun, Sweeney says

Whipping process in a hold until there’s a bill, Senate President says

By Nikita Biryukov, February 21 2019 1:17 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney on Thursday said that efforts to lobby members of his caucus who are resistant to or undecided on legalized marijuana have not begun.

“Well, we don’t have a final bill yet,” Sweeney said. “So, once we have a final bill, that’s when we’ll actually start to lobby.”

Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy have reached a rough framework on a legalized marijuana, but they still face the same hurdles in the state Senate that they did when they attempted to pass a marijuana legalization bill some months ago.

They don’t have the 21 votes they need in the legislature’s upper chamber.

Though Democrats control 26 of the Senate’s 40 seats, a number of the caucus’s members oppose marijuana legalization outright.

State Sen. Ronald Rice has vowed to never vote for a bill legalizing marijuana, and State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, who will run in a special election for the remainder of Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s unexpired term in a right-leaning district this November, has said he would back marijuana decriminalization but does not support outright legalization.

Others, including state Sen. Paul Sarlo and State Sen. Shirley Turner, are undecided on the measure.

It’s not yet clear how State Sen. Dawn Addiego, a new addition to the Democratic party, will vote on marijuana legalization, but Murphy has already put some pressure on her to fall behind the party’s agenda.

“In the days and months ahead, we’ll be continuing the fights to put all New Jersey residents on a path to a livable wage, attack the inequities in our social justice system by legalizing adult-use marijuana, and finally revamp New Jersey’s incentives programs to hold recipients accountable and ensure our residents see the benefits they deserve,” Murphy said after Addiego’s defection in late January.  “I welcome Sen. Addiego to that fight.”

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