Governor, lawmakers disagree on legal marijuana

Credit: (AP Photo / Julio Cortez, file)
Voters approved recreational marijuana in November, but Trenton has yet to finalize the legislation needed to make it legal.

New Jersey’s long journey to legalize adult recreational marijuana remains mired in what is quickly becoming an impasse between the governor and the legislature. So far neither side shows any sign of change.

Companion bills to legalize and decriminalize marijuana were passed almost a month ago. Governor Phil Murphy has not enacted them and is calling for the passage of a third bill that would specify the penalties for minors caught with marijuana.

The requested “clean-up” bill was drafted, but abruptly withdrawn last week when several senators refused to support it – including the sponsors, Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Senator Teresa Ruiz (D- Essex). A floor vote scheduled for Monday was canceled.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a voting initiative in November, amending the state’s constitution to legalize marijuana. It was supposed to come into force on January 1, but bills to translate this mandate into reality have yet to be passed.

Senators Ron Rice and Nia Gill, both Democrats from Essex County, led the charge against the cleanup bill last week in a heated caucus discussion. They argued, in essence, that this created a number of scenarios that could push black and brown minors into the criminal justice system – which defies the legislation’s underlying social justice intentions.

Murphy continues to insist that a “drafting error” in the bill left the question open as to how minors should be punished. Yesterday he said the bills as drafted do not prescribe any penalties for minors who possess marijuana.

“No one has ever spoken, including yours, about legalizing recreational marijuana for children,” he said during his press briefing on Wednesday.

A different opinion from the President of the Senate

First, there was no editorial error, Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney said in a meeting with NJ Spotlight News on Wednesday.

“The language we’ve been arguing over has been in the bill for two years,” and that was intentional, he said – the result of discussion and “political decision” by the legislature.

Second, “there is a punishment” in the current bill, said Sweeney (D-Gloucester). “There is a penalty for consuming minors, the same as consuming minors. “

“When members say, ‘Take my name out of the bill I sponsored,’ I have to listen to my caucus,” he said. “I was trying to find a compromise with the administration.

Sweeney is now suggesting that the governor approve the legalization bill already on his desk. “We hope the governor will sign it,” he added.

But the Murphy administration has a different point of view.

“The current bills on our desk explicitly provide for criminal penalties for the possession or use of cannabis by minors. The governor’s clean-up bill, on the other hand, reduces them to curbside warnings and civil offenses, ”said a source from the governor’s office, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized. .

“So the current invoices that are on our desk are unsuitable for signing as they inadvertently legalize marijuana for children,” the source added. “Therefore, cleaning legislation is needed to correct the unintended consequences for minors. “

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) appears to be avoiding the public feud.

“The president, the Democratic leadership of the assembly and the sponsors of the bill continue to have ongoing and productive discussions with the governor and the president of the Senate,” said Kevin McArdle, spokesperson for the majority office. of the Assembly.

And then there is this

Assuming the enabling marijuana legislation is finally signed, Sweeney doubled down on another unresolved point of contention between him and the governor on Wednesday. Sweeney said he still plans to bring forward a resolution that puts marijuana back in front of voters for a Second Constitutional Amendment. He would ask voters to devote the lion’s share of the revenue generated by taxes and fees from the new cannabis industry to social justice programs. The current bill uses identical language.

“This is the only way to ensure that the funding that we say we put in these places stays in these places, because the budget document always trumps anything we do,” Sweeney said. “I want to do all of these things to help these communities. “

When that will happen is unclear, however. Sweeney said he is still working to gain support from his caucus. He also believes this year, with the governor seeking re-election and the entire Legislature on the ballot, may not be the best time to ask voters such a question.

“I could be looking for the best election cycle,” Sweeney said, suggesting that a federal election year might be better.

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