The head of the state Assembly on Feb. 5 pushed back the deadline that Gov. Phil Murphy has to either veto or approve a bill legalizing adult-use marijuana, as the measure continues to stall in Trenton.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, canceled the Monday Assembly quorum call and committee hearings, which is when Murphy would have needed to act on the measure, and pushed it back to 10 days to Feb. 18. Another extension could be granted, but Murphy is currently scheduled to present his annual budget address on Feb. 23.
“Significant progress has been made and we are hopeful that concerns raised will be able to be addressed. I remain optimistic an agreement will be reached,” Coughlin said in a Feb. 5 statement.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question in November by a two to one margin that would legalize adult-use marijuana on Jan. 1, tax it at the standard 6.625% state sales tax, and regulate the market under the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
Murphy, Coughlin and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, had initially reached what many believed was a deal on cannabis legalization, and the measure was sent to Murphy’s desk on Dec. 17 with the expectation that he would sign the law by the end of the year.
But the governor has pushed back on the measure, saying that both the cannabis legalization and the decriminalization proposal did not address penalties for the underage use of marijuana.
While the legalization makes it a disorderly person offense for anyone under the age of 21 to possess cannabis, the decriminalization bill effectively legalizes possession of up to six ounces of marijuana by anyone.
Negotiations are meant to rectify this issue – but a clean-up bill sought by Murphy fell through at the last minute when several Senate lawmakers said they would not vote on the measure. And the Legislative Black Caucus is outright opposed, saying that underage penalties would invite more police interaction with black and brown youth.