N.J.'s marijuana bill nearly 'dead.' That means you may get to vote on making weed legal. – NJ.com
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It’s now all but certain that New Jersey voters, and not lawmakers, will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, three legislative sources confirmed to NJ Advance Media late Thursday.
A plan for the state Legislature to pass bill that would make recreational pot legal for those 21 and older in the Garden State is likely “dead,” said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
Although Gov. Phil Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature were gunning for a vote this month, one source said there’s “no hope” for that now because they still have not secured enough votes for the measure to pass and are unlikely to.
A second source said “someone needs to call the damn thing.” And a third source said voters will “definitely” be the ones to decide the issue at the ballot box.
Now lawmakers are simply waiting for state Senate President Stephen Sweeney to make it official that legislators will not get a chance to vote on the bill, the sources said. That could happen within days.
No decision has been made about when a referendum would go on the ballot. It could be this November or next, but 2020 is much more probable, the sources said. If it’s the latter, that means you might not get to light up legally until 2021.
Still, two officials in Murphy’s administration disputed the notion there is no hope the Legislature will pass the bill.
“There’s still hope,” one of them said, saying it’s up to Sweeney to produce the 21 votes needed for the measure to pass the state Senate.
One legislative source said even if the recreational bill dies, it’s possible the Legislature could vote on a pair of related measures in the coming months — one to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and another to expunge the records of residents with pot convictions of up to 5 pounds.
Murphy had already been planning to expand medical weed on his own if a vote on the recreational bill didn’t materialize by the end of this month.
The dimming hopes for the marijuana bill come as controversy over tax breaks has consumed Trenton in recent weeks. A task force convened by Murphy is examining whether companies abused tax breaks doled out by the state — including those with ties to South Jersey power broker George Norcross III, a close ally of Sweeney.
That has caused bad blood between Murphy and Sweeney to boil even more and cast a shadow over the push for pot as well as state budget negotiations.
Of the 10 states to legalize marijuana, only Vermont has done so legislatively. All others have had voters decide.
On Thursday morning, Murphy said at an unrelated news conference in Trenton that a voter referendum has always been possible in New Jersey. But the governor said he still preferred to legalize pot in the Legislature, giving them more flexibility to set up the program and make changes in the future.
“I want to exhaust that with legislative leadership before we talk about a plan B,” Murphy said.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, agreed.
“We have work to do,” Coughlin said. “Whether in fact we get there or not remains to be seen. And if we don’t, then I think we need to continue to look for ways to do it.”
Murphy was then scheduled to meet with Coughlin and Sweeney later in the day to discuss the budget and how to tinker with the marijuana bill to win over more votes.
But Sweeney pulled out at the last minute, saying he had another meeting to attend.
Murphy campaigned for governor on making marijuana legal. And he, Sweeney, and Coughlin have worked together to try to whip votes.
Still, lawmakers from both major political parties have been opposed. A planned vote on the measure in March was canceled when it became clear the Senate didn’t have the votes.
Leaders have been considering changes to the legislation to make it more palatable to lawmakers on the fence. But three legislative sources say there hasn’t been much progress on obtaining more “yes” votes since then.
Thus, it’s likely leaders will put a question on the ballot asking voters to amend the state constitution to legalize weed. For that to happen for this November’s elections, the Legislature would have to approve the question by 90 days before Election Day. They’d also need two-thirds of the Legislature to agree.
One source said “this year is not off the table,” but it’s more of a risk since state Assembly elections top the ticket and the turnout is expected to be light and voters older. Plus, if the question fails, lawmakers would have to wait three years to put it on the ballot again.
Thus, 2020 seems safer, considering there’s a presidential election that will likely draw a larger turnout, with a younger electorate.
Politico New Jersey was the first to report sources saying the bill is “dead.”
Brent Johnson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.
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This article originally appeared here in https://www.nj.com/marijuana/2019/05/njs-marijuana-bill-is-nearly-dead-that-means-you-may-get-to-vote-on-making-weed-legal.html