Although Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers recently struck a deal on some of the major points of legal cannabis, don’t expect to be able to buy legal marijuana in New Jersey any time soon.
Speaking to reporters following a Thursday Senate session, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said the soonest that option might be possible would be next January.
“I think, best case scenario, you’re going to have marijuana available legally [in] January,” Sweeney said. “I’ve got to tell you guys, honest to God, the bill isn’t finished.”
The agreement reached last Friday calls for a $42 an ounce flat tax and for regulation of the marijuana industry to be left up to a five person Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
Murphy would pick three of the members without requiring the approval of the Senate, while Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, each pick one member.
Sweeney said Thursday that over several years, the tax would be phased out for medical marijuana. He, Coughlin and Murphy have undertaken the
task of whipping up votes, but Sweeney said that might not even begin until the bill is actually finished being written.
“I know how many votes I can whip. And so does the Speaker,” Sweeney said. “This is going to be up to the governor. The governor’s going to have to provide votes if we’re going to get it done. If we come up short, we come up short.”
Sweeney said he has yet to begin lobbying lawmakers who are on the fence about approving a new deal on legal marijuana, and he said that will remain the case until lawmakers hammer out the final text of the bill.
“Well we don’t have a final bill yet, so once we have a final bill, that’s when we’ll actually start to lobby,” he said outside the Senate Democrats caucus meeting in Trenton Thursday afternoon.
Several Democrats have either been on the fence, or a hard no, about the marijuana vote and Murphy and Sweeney will have to undertake courting their votes.
“It takes the [Assembly] speaker, the senate president and the governor to get votes,” Sweeney told reporters following a Senate voting session later that day.
Those state Senators, all Democrats, are Sen. Dawn Addiego, 8th District; Sen. Nia Gill, 34th District; Sen. Fred Madden, 4th District; Sen. Nick Sacco, 32nd District; Sen. Paul Sarlo, 36th District; Sen. Brian Stack, 33rd District; and Sen. Shirley Turner, 15th District, according to a report from Politico.
“I want to see the bill, see the safeguards that are in there,” Sarlo told NJBIZ on Thursday. “I’m not ruling out it right now [but] if a vote was taken today I’d be a no.”
Those issues, Sarlo said, were “safeguards with regards to law enforcement” and “how we’re going to regulate it within the construction industry.”
“I haven’t seen the bill,” added Sacco. “Until I’m actually able to read the bill, I can’t make a commitment. I lean towards it but I want to be sure. Particularly one issue is that the communities have the right to designate where [stores] would be in their borders.”
A bitter opponent of marijuana legalization, Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, was being courted by Murphy to possibly shift his vote. But Rice told NJBIZ he had not been contacted by anyone in the governor’s office.
Sen. Richard Codey, D-27th District, was also leaning no, while Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, D-1st District, was a hard no.
A bill needs 21 votes to pass the Senate and 41 to pass the Assembly. It is not immediately clear which Democrats in the Assembly are on the fence about the deal, as the Assembly Democrats Office declined to comment.