With budget hearings and discussions beginning to ramp up in Trenton, the current month might be the last best time to throw a marijuana-legalization bill over the finish line, the state Legislature’s top Democrat said Thursday.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, speaking to a select group of reporters in Trenton, said a vote needs to be held this month to hold an election on a measure legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adult-use.
“April’s out, because it’s budget hearings and plenty of members will make plans, there’s Easter, there’s religious holidays. So that takes you into May and then the budget’s going on,” Sweeney said.
That itself is problematic, given that lawmakers might view negotiations on the budget and marijuana-legalization through a tit-for-tat, transactional lens.
“That could create mischief,” Sweeney said.
A tentative agreement calls for taxing marijuana at $42 an ounce, and for a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the new industry. Gov. Murphy would be able to pick three of the five members.
The long-awaited proposal has been pushed back a considerable amount of times.
The senate president said he could get the voting done in the summer or a lame duck session, but said he “doesn’t want to wait that long.” And whether lawmakers might put the questions before voters as a ballot referendum has been a non-starter.
“The ballot initiative is more of desperation,” he said, and the measure would be put on the ballot during an election with the Assembly races at the top of the ticket – the “lowest turnout” of any races.
Murphy was initially pushing for legalization within his first 100 days of office. Murphy’s 2020 budget, unveiled Tuesday, calls for $60 million of legal weed tax revenue assuming marijuana is legal next January.
The state anticipates spending $21 million to getting the regulatory arm up and running for legal weed, and afterwards $12 million a year for operations and enforcement.