New Jersey might actually legalize marijuana this year
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he wanted marijuana legalization. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he wanted it, too, and Assembly Leader Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) was also on board. But the state’s most powerful politicians couldn’t get their act together enough to actually get marijuana legalization passed earlier this year, and despite all the initial excitement, it seemed like New Jersey was doomed to endure another year of pot prohibition.
Now, though, it’s looking like Garden Staters may end up enjoying an unexpected Christmas present after all. Last week, both Sweeney and Murphy were making noises about reviving the stalled legalization effort before year’s end.
“I’m not going to give up trying. I would love to do it. We’ll make one more run at it,” Sweeney said last Wednesday. He added that he believed an agreement among himself, Coughlin, and Murphy on the language in the bill would be enough to get it through the legislature.
That prompted a quick expression of support from Murphy, who campaigned on marijuana legalization in 2017 and once vowed to get it done by the end of 2018.
Last Thursday, Murphy responded that he was “happy to hear” that Sweeney wanted to move again on legalization. “I was encouraged to see that, and count me all in to try and work toward that,” he said. “Getting something to happen sooner if we have a real shot at it, I’d be all in for that.”
“Sources close to... Sweeney said” the renewed push to get legalization through would come after the November elections, most likely “during the lame-duck session between Election Day and January,” according to the Patch.
That’s a real turnaround for Sweeney, who announced in May that he was ending efforts to pass the bill because he didn’t have the votes for it. At the time, he said the most likely path to legalization was for the state’s voters to decide the issue in a November 2020 ballot referendum. But that would mean another year of pot prohibition.
Sweeney and Murphy were also at odds over investigations by the administration into whether corporations misused tax breaks in the past. One of the companies being scrutinized is owned by state Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a Sweeney ally. Once the investigations got underway, negotiations between Sweeney and Murphy over the pot bill stalled.
Questions of what has prompted Sweeney to change his mind now and whether he has the five votes he lacked in May remain unclear, but the Senate leader is definitely signaling he’s ready to try to push the bill through.
It would be the popular thing to do. A February Monmouth University poll had support for legalization at 62 percent, with just 32 percent opposed. The people of New Jersey are ready; now, it’s up to the politicians to get it done.
If New Jersey does legalize it this year, it will become the 11th state to do so and the second one to do so this year, after Illinois. And it will beat neighboring New York across the finish line.
Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.