Vote on legalizing marijuana in N.J. likely this month, leaders say

Thursday, November 15, 2018
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Vote on marijuana could reach committee soon, leaders say. Tamala Edwards reports during Action News Mornings on November 15, 2018.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- A vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in the Democrat-led Legislature is coming later this month, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney said.

The committee votes would inch forward the marijuana legislation that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy promised during his campaign. But Sweeney and Coughlin did not commit to a final vote, leaving the timeline for one unclear.

Coughlin and Sweeney spoke Wednesday 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 marijuana legalization could affect the opioid epidemic in the state, and whether police will have the resources to handle it.

Lisa DiGiulio, a former councilwoman from Mahwah, appealed to legislators not to approve recreational marijuana. 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.

Michigan voters this month approved recreational marijuana at the ballot, becoming the 10th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize cannabis.


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