Murphy admin eyeing medicinal cannabis expansion if Monday’s marijuana vote fails

Daniel J. Munoz//March 21, 2019//

Murphy admin eyeing medicinal cannabis expansion if Monday’s marijuana vote fails

Daniel J. Munoz//March 21, 2019//

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Gov. Phil Murphy holds a press conference with advocates, community and faith leaders on impact of marijuana legalization and expungement legislation in Trenton March 21.

If the landmark vote this coming Monday to legalize marijuana for adult-use falls through, the Murphy administration will begin taking steps to dramatically expand the existing medical marijuana program, Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed Thursday.

He, along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, have been scrambling to whip up support among lawmakers in both chambers.

The most recent head count in the state Senate was 15 – 21 are needed – according to a person close to the discussions. But Murphy, at a press event Thursday in Trenton, would not say whether he has moved any voters in either chamber.

“I think we’re moving people,” the Democratic governor said Thursday. He was flanked by several ministers, local officials and church leaders, as well as social advocacy groups such as the New Jersey Civil Liberties Union who were all present to make the case of the positive social justice impact that legalization would have on communities.

Many of those individuals hailed from Essex and Mercer County, in communities represented by Essex County hold-outs Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, Sen. Nial Gill, D-34th District, and former governor and current Sen. Dick Codey, D-27th District, as well as Mercer County hold-out Sen. Shirley Turner, D-15th District.

Murphy said his administration has been putting off the expansion of the state’s medicinal marijuana program for months in hopes of passing the legal marijuana bill.

The state has six alternative treatment centers where patients can purchase medicinal marijuana, and are in the process of adding another six. That encompasses 42,528 patients, 1,736 caregivers and 925 doctors authorized to prescribe the product.

“That’ll be a big number [of ATC’s]. It won’t be six, it’ll be many, many multiples of that, and I will do that with a very, very heavy heart,” Murphy said.

Murphy would not speak to an exact timeline for that expansion should lawmakers not approve the bill.

“I don’t even want to entertain that. It’s Monday or never,” Murphy said.

“The bad guys run the business and make the money… that’s the status quo,” Murphy said, which he said will continue if lawmakers do not approve the bills.

Sweeney has deflected proposals for marijuana to be legalized via a ballot question, which Murphy has reiterated, as he hopes to be the second state behind Vermont to legalize cannabis solely through the legislature and not a voter referendum.

Sweeney added that he would not want to move ahead with the marijuana-legalization vote during budget season because lawmakers would use it as a bargaining chip, which would block out April through June.  Followed by that would be summer recess, leaving the soonest lawmakers could focus again on the cannabis legalization as autumn.