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Senate President Steve Sweeney. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Sweeney not worried about New York marijuana effort

Monetary loss if northern neighbors pass law first

By Nikita Biryukov, October 29 2018 7:20 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney said he’s not worried about the state’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana being preempted by its northern neighbor, New York.

“No, this is not that easy,” Sweeney said when asked if he was worried about New York legalizing marijuana first. “This is not that easy, and they’ve got a mixed government up there, don’t they?”

Unlike certain policies, there’s economic gain to being the first in the region to legalize marijuana — and economic loss to failing to do the same. New Jersey lawmakers want to be the first in the tri-state area to make recreational marijuana legal.

New Jersey’s attempts at passage have so far been waylaid by a small number of disagreements over specific measures of the legalization bill.

New Yorkers haven’t hit those roadblocks yet, though they’ll likely have other problems on their road to legalization.

While Democrats hold 32 of the 63 seats in the upper chamber of New York’s legislature, their majority is in name only.

Eight of those members belonged to the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of senators elected as Democrats that caucused with the chamber’s Republicans, effectively giving Republicans control over the state’s Senate.

That IDC announced it was dissolving in April. Its members were to return to the fold of the Democratic caucus. That would have given the caucus a majority in the chamber, but there was one Democratic legislator, New York Sen. Simcha Felder, who caucused with Republicans but was not part of the IDC.

In either case, six of the IDC’s eight members lost primaries to challengers from the left earlier this year, and Democrats are expected to take control of the chamber after the general election on Nov. 6.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo flipped his position on legal marijuana earlier this year, when he was facing a primary challenge from liberal activist Cynthia Nixon, and there’s some question about how enthusiastically he’ll push the policy in the absence of a metaphorical gun to his head.

It’s not clear whether how familiar he is with the politics of New York, but Sweeney doesn’t think New Jersey’s northern neighbors can get the bill passed in the span of a month or two.

Still, there’s some question about whether New Jersey can pass its marijuana law in that amount of time. Lawmakers have repeatedly missed their self-imposed end-of-month deadlines on the matter and now say they’ll have a marijuana vote by the end of the year.

“I have a hard-enough time in New Jersey, I’m not even venturing into New York,” Sweeney said.

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