A mirage-like effort to legalize cannabis in the Garden State has now passed on to the legislative back-burner for the rest of this session. New Jersey Senate President, Stephen Sweeney (D), on Wednesday said he wouldn’t push for a vote on the measure, claiming he couldn’t garner enough support for it. “We are not going to move forward” with the bill to legalize adult use of marijuana, Sweeney said at a press conference. “It’s something I feel strongly [about], but the votes aren’t there.”
Alternatively though, New Jersey will move towards “dramatically expanding” its medical marijuana program, while expunging criminal records related to marijuana at the same time, the Senate President stated. The move shocked some supporters, as both Sweeney and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) have championed legal cannabis, and polls have shown strong public support in favor of legalization recreational marijuana. Instead of joining Vermont as the only other state to have legalized cannabis through legislature, New Jersians will probably vote on 2020 ballot initiative.
In late March, the legalization bill was set for a vote in both the state Senate and Assembly. According to the Asbury Park Press, it had the number of votes needed to clear the Assembly but was between one-to-three votes shy in the Senate. Then an investigation into one of Sweeney’s main supporters, George E. Norcross III, found Norcross and his associates were on the receiving end of more than $1 billion in suspicious tax breaks in the state. Amongst the fallout and the damage to his reputation, Sweeney rescinded the vote on legalization. Advocates haven’t completely given up hope, however. Amol Sinha, the executive director of ACLU New Jersey, says it’s a matter of when ― not if. “I think we were very close,” Sinha told HuffPost. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot going on in the world of politics in New Jersey and we tend to get easily distracted. We should be able to think about more than one thing at a time and just because there’s a sourness about one issue it shouldn’t disadvantage all of New Jersey.” He added, “Politics is holding justice hostage.”
Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is optimistic about the prospects for a 2020 ballot initiative. The legislative proposal failed “mostly for reasons related to the sort of petty politics and insider dealing that the American people have grown to despise in our government, and less about marijuana specifically,” he said in an emailed statement. “While lawmakers in Trenton seem to have kicked the can down the road, we are confident the voters in New Jersey will send them an unambiguous message in 2020: State residents are sick and tired of failed prohibitionist policies and overwhelmingly want to move towards the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”