As state lawmakers begin their final meetings of this year’s legislative session, there was hope the senate might revisit marijuana legalization. State Senate President Steve Sweeney told before the Nov. 5 elections that he would try to wrangle enough votes to pass a legal weed bill, but it appears those efforts are already falling short and prospects for a vote before a new legislature is seated in January are dim.

Sweeney came up at least two votes shy of the 21 needed to pass the bill in his house earlier this year. There was opposition from both Republicans and Sweeney’s own Democratic caucus. The Senate president believes this is both an emotional and generational issue, and conceded he can only push his fellow senators so far.  He does, however, remain 100% committed to legalization, telling me, “it will be done, just not as quickly as many would like.”

The most likely scenario remains putting the issue to a public vote. The easiest path to putting a legalization referendum on the ballot for the 2020 election would be for the legislature to authorize it by a simple majority (50% plus one) in two consecutive years.  That means a successful vote would need to be taken this year, and another successful vote after January, to ensure inclusion on the ballot. If a vote fails this year, a special super-majority vote would be needed next year, requiring 60% support in both the Senate and Assembly.

It’s unlikely that would be possible. A senior Sweeney aide was confident the Senate president could get enough support to authorize a ballot initiative both this year and next.

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This is the most common path among states that have already legalized marijuana.  Only Illinois and Vermont were able to generate enough support in their respective legislatures to make recreational weed legal. Nine other states needed to put it to a public vote. Neighboring Pennsylvania and New York have explored legalization through legislation. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced what they called the “Gold Standard” legalization bill, but it faces stiff opposition among that state’s legislators. New York failed to pass “The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” this year and amid concerns from legislators, law enforcement, and public safety officials, the future of the legislation in 2020 is doubtful.

Some in New Jersey had hoped New York and/or Pennsylvania would have been successful in legalization efforts to put pressure on our legislature to get it done so NJ wouldn’t lose out on needed revenue. Now, all three states face uphill battles to get it done legislatively. Suddenly, New Jersey could lead the way by allowing voters to decide. Public opinion polls have been changing in the Garden State.  he latest Monmouth University poll shows just 32% oppose it. With turnout in the 2020 election expected to be high, driven by Donald Trump’s re-election bid, New Jersey may now have the easiest path to legalization.

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