Gov. Phil Murphy disputed that any kind of bad blood between him and the senate president ultimately doomed efforts to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana.
“He said to me privately on many occasions that he appreciated enormously my leadership and help on this,” Murphy said of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, – his often-times political rival – at an unrelated Wednesday afternoon event in East Windsor.
Sweeney announced late Wednesday morning that he would call quits on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana because he could not get the 21 votes needed to pass the state Senate – even though the Assembly had the 41 votes needed to pass – opting instead to put the issue before voters during the 2020 presidential election.
“I think it was a very good team effort among the senate president, the speaker and myself,” Murphy added, also referencing Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District. “We came close, we didn’t quite get there.”
An attempt will still be made to approve two bills by June 30 that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program and set up the process for expunging cannabis-related criminal offenses.
Murphy said he would be open to signing both bills, but cautioned that “the devil is in the details.”
The New Jersey Legislature website shows that the medical marijuana bill – Assembly Bill 10, will be up for a vote on the May 20 Assembly Appropriations Committee meeting, while a new expungement proposal – Assembly Bill 5325 – will be up for a vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee that same day.
Sweeney said that Murphy’s announcement in mid-March to drastically expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part, sabotaged the success of the package.
“When they announced the expansion of medical it just ended any chance of this,” Sweeney said. “We made it clear to the administration that any discussion about the expansion of medical would kill recreational.”
Sweeney was initially harshly critical of Murphy during the Wednesday morning press conference but later softened the tone, saying he, the governor and Coughlin put in a good team effort to get the recreational bill passed in both houses.
“I know the governor tried. We would speak two or three times a week when we were trying to get it done, but there was never a list of votes provided to me to show they were close,” Sweeney said.“The governor didn’t listen to the advice that legislators gave him.”