State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) plans to introduce a technical bill to bring into line language differences between decriminalization and legalization bills on the governor’s desk as a fallback in case lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on a cleanup bill in time for votes in both chambers scheduled for later this week.
“I am planning on an additional backup plan that would just clarify what the governor’s office suggests is an inconsistency between cannabis and marijuana, and to me, that’s a simple fix: a one-page bill that just basically says ‘in all instances where there’s an inconsistency between what’s stated as marijuana and what’s stated as cannabis, the word and phraseology in marijuana would be controlling,” Scutari told the New Jersey Globe. “Who couldn’t vote for that?”
The Senate Judiciary Committee planned to advance a cleanup bill at its Tuesday hearing, but that plan was scuttled by inclement weather that’s expected to delay voting sessions in the Assembly and Senate scheduled for Thursday until Friday.
The panel will reconvene Wednesday to advance the cleanup bill and Scutari’s backup, which is meant to address concerns from the front office over disparities between how marijuana and cannabis are treated under legalization and decriminalization bills awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.
In those bills, cannabis refers to marijuana obtained through the state’s yet-unestablished legal market, while marijuana refers black market purchases of the drug.
The backup bill would only clarify language in the existing bills. Put simply, it’s a bid to buy more time for negotiations that have dragged on more than three months after voters overwhelmingly backed legalization at the polls.
“I think anyone can vote for that. If this (cleanup) bill that we have before us can’t pass, we really should pass that,” Scutari said. “This way the governor could sign all three and we can continue to work on the underage violations, which has been contentious for many members.”
A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the backup bill.
Parties in the statehouse and at 225 West State St. have been at odds over penalties for minors absent from the bills already on the governor’s desk.
The latest version of the cleanup bill would set up a graduated warning system for minors found in possession of the drug. They’d receive a written warning on the first and second offense, though their parent or guardian would be notified of the latter.
The third offense would carry a fine of up to $50 or community service, though proposed amendments that were held along with the bill Tuesday would remove all fines for minors, replacing them with referrals to community-based groups and services.
Users aged 18, 19 and 20 would be subject to a fine of up to $50 on their first offense.
Murphy has repeatedly said he won’t sign a bill that legalizes marijuana for children, and it’s not clear whether he’ll be willing to sign the decriminalization and legalization bills already on his desk absent a cleanup, even with language discrepancies brought into line.
Time for negotiations is still running out. While weather-fueled delays will provide lawmakers another day to negotiate, the bills on Murphy’s desk could still become law without his signature at noon on Friday, though he’d likely strike the bills before then if no deal is reached.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has said his chamber would not concur with a conditional veto.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) could delay his chamber’s quorum again to provide more time for negotiations — he’s done so once already — but two legislative sources on Monday told the New Jersey Globe they expect no such delay, which would bring the chamber’s other business to a standstill for the sake of marijuana negotiations.