Democrats marijuana legalization bill is dead in the water, and Senate President Steve Sweeney announced Wednesday that it won’t be resurrected. Instead, Sweeney will seek to push through a ballot legalization ballot initiative for 2020.
“We will move forward with the expansion of our medical cannabis program as well as the progressive social justice reforms in the expungement legislation,” Sweeney said. “We will not, however, pursue the legalization of adult use marijuana at this time.”
Legalization efforts stalled in March after Democrats failed to whip enough votes to pass the Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s marijuana bill package through the Senate in March.
Since then, there’s been little progress on the issue, despite pressure from Gov. Phil Murphy.
Murphy and legislative leaders have long resisted turning to voters in their legalization efforts, saying they’d prefer to do so legislatively.
Vermont is the only state to pass a legalization bill through its statehouse. All other states that have legalized did so using a ballot initiative.
Now, it looks like New Jersey will join those ranks, but it won’t do so in 2019, when Assembly races are at the top of the ticket and turnout is expected to be low.
The ballot measure won’t go up until 2020, Sweeney said.
Advocacy groups weren’t thrilled at the shift in priorities, but they were pleased that the state wasn’t dropping marijuana reforms altogether.
“While clearly disappointed that adult-use legalization has been put on the backburner, we are thankful that medical cannabis reform is moving forward and patients will finally have greater access and be able to participate in a more affordable program,” said New Jersey Cannabusiness Association president Scott Rudder. “We look forward to continuing to work with the State as it develops and expands its medical program and we will continue to advocate for full legalization and the social justice reforms it brings.”
Further complicating marijuana legalization efforts is a growing feud between Murphy and Sweeney over tax incentives meted out by the state’s Economic Development Authority.
Sweeney skipped a meeting on legalization with Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin last week, telling reporters that he had somewhere more important to be.
The task force that Murphy created to investigate abuses of the EDA’s tax incentive programs has publicly taken aim at firms with links to South Jersey power broker George Norcross, a childhood friend and political benefactor of Sweeney’s.
That fight has seen Sweeney announce the creation of a Senate special committee to investigate the tax programs. Sweeney on Monday declined to rule out having the committee investigate Murphy’s EDA task force.
He said he hadn’t thought about it.