New Jersey lawmakers canceled a planned vote on the legalization of marijuana on Monday, saying the lack of a clear majority to pass the measure will delay the decision until later this year. Both the state Senate and Assembly had scheduled votes on the bill, which would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and create a framework to regulate and tax commercial sales.
“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Sweeney vowed that “the fight is not over.”
“We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward,” Sweeney said.” While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.”
Lobbying Efforts Not Enough
Democratic leaders spent the weekend pushing to shore up votes from undecided voters, and sources said that the 41 votes necessary to pass the measure in the Assembly had likely been secured. But as of Sunday night, only 18 senators had signed on to the measure, three votes shy of the 21 required for approval.
“We’re pushing hard,” said one source about legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned for office promising cannabis reform. Murphy acknowledged earlier this month that the legalization bill is controversial but advocated a realistic approach to the issue.
“I don’t think any of us think it’s a no-brainer, and I don’t blame folks for not automatically getting there,” said Murphy. “But we’re not inventing marijuana. It exists. It’s in our communities. Our kids are exposed to it. The social injustices of the past exist. So if we can undo those social injustices, get the business out of the hands of the bad guys, protect our kids, regulate and tax it — and by the way generate some revenue and create a lot of jobs — that feels like the right combination. And if we don’t do it, there’s no good alternative to me.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said last week that if enough votes were not guaranteed before Monday’s vote, it would be postponed until later this year.
“It’s got to get done on March 25 or it’s not getting done until fall,” Sweeney said. “Trying to move a marijuana bill during a budget break is not healthy.”
Whoopi Goldberg Works for Passage of Legalization Bill
New Jersey legislative leaders weren’t the only ones lobbying for votes to pass the cannabis legalization measure. Comedian and cannabis entrepreneur Whoopi Goldberg, who is a resident of West Orange, New Jersey, made phone calls to legislators over the weekend to ask for their votes. Goldberg also wrote an op-ed on the subject that was published on Friday.
“As I have grown older, and questionably wiser, I have maintained a healthy relationship with marijuana,” Goldberg wrote. “I now use marijuana, through a vape pen, to relieve headaches from glaucoma.”
“For countless adults across New Jersey, myself included, marijuana has never been about getting high just for the sake of it,” she continued. “And, that’s something that lawmakers on Monday need to remember. The unhinged and dire doomsday prophecies of some simply have not come to fruition elsewhere, nor will they in New Jersey.”