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State Sen. Nicholas Scutari. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Scutari not stung by headway on legalization in Illinois

Prairie State poised to legalize through legislation

By Nikita Biryukov, May 30 2019 1:16 pm

State Sen. Nick Scutari isn’t overly hurt by Illinois beating New Jersey to the punch on marijuana legalization.

“It doesn’t feel anything,” Scutari told the New Jersey Globe. “How does it feel? I don’t know.”

Lawmakers in Illinois’s state senate on Wednesday approved a measure to legalize marijuana. If the state legislature’s lower chamber approves the measure, it’s likely that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a legalization proponent will sign onto the bill.

If that happens, the state will be the second, after Vermont, to legalize marijuana legislatively.

New Jersey lawmakers attempted have attempted to the same over the last year, with Scutari leading the push for legalization in the Senate, but they ultimately failed to reach the 21-vote threshold needed to pass a legalization bill package in the upper chamber.

Reports about how many votes the Senate fell short differ, but by the New Jersey Globe’s count, it wasn’t particularly close.

Despite that and legislative leaders’ newfound focus on a 2020 legalization referendum, Scutari said hope for legislative legalization wasn’t completely gone.

“I’m not going to say no,” Scutari said when asked if there was any hope for a legislative solution to marijuana legalization. “But I don’t feel like there’s great hope for a legislative solution just because we don’t have the votes. Legislatively, it needs to pass with 21 and 41, and we haven’t been able to secure that many votes in a definitive fashion”

The year’s Assembly elections pose a roadblock to a legalization vote in the lower chamber that otherwise could be used to pressure lawmakers in the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin isn’t likely to open members of his caucus to attacks over a legalization vote if the votes aren’t there in the senate, even if polls have repeatedly shown a majority of New Jersey voters support legalization.

Those elections are also the reason the referendum isn’t being held this year. With Assembly candidates at the top of the ticket, turnout is expected to be low.

It’s likely the 2020 referendum will pass without much issue, but even that isn’t really ideal for marijuana proponents.

“I think it’d be better to do it legislatively. That’s what they’ve always told us. That’s what every other district that’s done it that way believes it’s the preferred way to make laws, especially in New Jersey. We’re not an initiative or referendum state,” Scutari said. “That was always the last resort, and that’s the way it’s looking.”

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