Murphy ‘all in’ to approve legal marijuana bill by end of 2019

Daniel J. Munoz//August 8, 2019//

Murphy ‘all in’ to approve legal marijuana bill by end of 2019

Daniel J. Munoz//August 8, 2019//

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Gov. Phil Murphy said he would be “all in” for a last-minute push by legislative leadership to approve a bill legalizing adult-use marijuana by the end of the year, rather than holding off for a ballot question during the 2020 presidential election.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, told NJ.com Wednesday that he would like to see the bill pass through the Legislature by the end of the year, though it may be a stretch.

Sweeney, Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, pulled the legalization vote in March when it became apparent they could not muster support in the state Senate, even though they had enough votes in the Assembly.

The Senate President then conceded in May that the bill could not pass and that marijuana legalization could appear before voters as a ballot question in the 2020 presidential election, when voter turnout would likely be at its highest.

Coughlin and Sweeney listen as Gov. Murphy outlines his fiscal 2020 spending blueprint. – AARON HOUSTON

“I had hoped we could have one more shot at this,” Murphy told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday at Nokia Bell Labs in Murray Hill. “Getting something to happen sooner if we have a real shot at it, I’d be all in.”

“I thought he and I and the speaker worked really well together,” the governor added.

Sweeney pinned some of the blame on Murphy for the bill’s failure in March, arguing that the governor’s announcement that he would ramp up the medical marijuana market if the legalization bill failed ultimately turned away lawmakers who were on the fence about approving the measure.

Sweeney, in addition, backtracked on the agreed-upon taxation scheme of $42 an ounce, saying in May that he thought the amount was still too high, and that he only agreed on that amount in pursuit of a legalization deal with the governor.

Just before the July 4 weekend, Murphy approved a measure that would dramatically open up the state’s medical marijuana program.

Meanwhile, the heads of the black and Latino legislative caucuses are pushing for Murphy to sign a bill that would expunge certain low-level cannabis-related offenses, and for the Legislature to move ahead with a bill that would decriminalize possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana and replace it with a fine rather than criminal charges.

Sweeney and Murphy have both been opposed to the proposal, saying it would be a backdoor to legalization. The Senate President later said that he would be “willing to listen” to the arguments of Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and one of the biggest proponents of decriminalization.