Despite talks breaking down on Jan. 8 over a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis, and how the state should handle penalties for minors, Gov. Phil Murphy said Jan. 11 that he was still “optimistic” a deal could be struck in the halls of Trenton.
Murphy, however, did stress that the legalization bill, which would allow adult-use marijuana for anyone in New Jersey over the age of 21, cannot be crafted in a way that would put it in the hands of anyone under that age.
“We don’t want more of our youth entangled in the criminal justice system, we feel passionately about that,” he told reporters following an unrelated event Jan. 11 at Rowan University.
“I’m still optimistic we’ll figure something out” with the state Legislature’s two top lawmakers: Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District,” the governor added.
Murphy wants legalization and decriminalization bills to include penalties effectively amounting to a parking ticket. Racial justice advocates contend this would disproportionately be enforced against African Americans and Latinos, who have already borne the brunt of the War on Drugs and marijuana prohibition.
Top lawmakers abruptly pulled their support from a so-called legalization “clean-up” bill on Jan. 8 that would have enacted penalties for anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 caught with cannabis, and anyone under the age of 18.
Murphy’s office has argued that the issue comes down to technical language errors in the bill. But one of the main sponsors, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, stated that there are instead fundamental policy differences between the Legislature and governor’s office.
And so for now, despite adult-use marijuana being legal as of Jan. 1 according to the state’s constitution, the bill formally legalizing cannabis continues to sit on Murphy’s desk.
The bill was sent there on Dec. 17, and Murphy has 45 days to veto or approve the measure or send it back to lawmakers for revision, before it automatically becomes law: Jan. 31.
“This was never about legalizing marijuana for our kids,” he added later on Monday at a press briefing in Trenton.
“That was never what this was about. That’s not what the voters voted on in the referendum. That’s not what we’ve felt strongly and passionately about from moment one. We’ve somehow got to thread a needle that gets both of those accomplished.”