By Mike Catalina
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A vote on legalizing recreational cannabis in New Jersey’s Democratic-led Legislature is coming later in November 2018, the Assembly Speaker and Senate President said.
The committee votes would inch forward the marijuana legislation that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy promised during his campaign. But Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin did not commit to a final vote, leaving the timeline for one unclear.
Coughlin and Sweeney spoke Nov. 14, 2018, at the state League of Municipalities’ annual conference in Atlantic City, Coughlin said he had the votes in committee to pass the legislation. Sweeney echoed that timeline as well, but said he will need help from Murphy to get the votes to pass the measure, which has been stalled in the Legislature.
“The only way something like this gets passed legislatively is if all three of us work together,” Sweeney said. “If (the governor’s office is) not going to lobby any votes for us then it won’t get done.”
Murphy’s chief of staff, Pete Cammarano, said that tax rates are slowing progress and the administration couldn’t ask lawmakers to support a bill they hadn’t seen. Now that the bill is in front of Murphy’s administration, Cammarano said they are reviewing next steps. He said tax rates could be negotiated, and also cited a paid regulatory commission that the governor had reservations about.
Polls indicate that the public largely supports recreational legalization, but attendees at the conference voiced opposition.
In particular, attendees raised concerns over how cannabis legalization could affect the opioid epidemic in New Jersey, and whether police will have the resources to handle it.
Lisa DiGiulio, a former councilwoman from Mahwah, appealed to legislators not to approve recreational cannabis. She said in apparent hyperbole that her sister had lived in Colorado and got “stoned” by simply walking down the street.
“I kind of think you’re stoned anyway,” she told the panel of lawmakers.
In response, Sweeney cited public surveys that show support for legalization. He said the reason lawmakers are pursuing a bill instead of a constitutional amendment is that a law makes it easier for lawmakers to make adjustments. A constitutional amendment would require repeatedly going to the voters at the ballot box for changes, Sweeney said.