From marijuana setback, newfound cooperation in Trenton?
Gov. Phil Murphy promised as a candidate to legalize adult-use marijuana in his first hundred days in office. With Monday’s vote postponed due to a lack of support in the Senate, it looks like it will take at least 492 – and that’s his best-case scenario, presuming a breakthrough is found by May.
Rowan University political scientist Ben Dworkin said Monday’s lack of action was “a setback clearly” for Murphy but not necessarily a lasting one.
“For the governor, this is a heavy body blow,” Dworkin said. “But he’ll come back and the bill will eventually come back as well.”
Any short-term political pain could mask long-term political benefits from a change in how Murphy approached the Legislature during the sales-pitch for marijuana legalization, said Seton Hall University political scientist Matthew Hale.
“I actually think this is the first time that Gov. Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney seem to have come together and tried to get something passed as a team,” Hale said. “And so at the end of the day, that’s probably a good thing for Democrats in New Jersey.”
Murphy said that contrary to what many believe, he speaks with lawmakers all the time – though acknowledged those talks in the last few weeks have been different.
“There was scores and scores and scores of conversations that were really good, really deep,” Murphy said. “I commend legislators from both sides of the aisle, I might add, for wanting to do the right thing, even if they couldn’t get there themselves.”
Murphy said he and Sweeney talked daily leading up to the vote, sometimes multiple times a day, in what he called “a very good exercise.” Sweeney concurred.
“It showed, for everyone out there, that the three of us do know how to work together, and we do work together,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
In the latest nod toward cooperation, the Murphy administration has opted not to proceed, for now, with plans to significantly expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Murphy had indicated a significant number of licenses would be approved, in addition to the 12 already authorized, if the marijuana package stalled in the Legislature.
Hale said “it seems very clear that Gov. Murphy made an adjustment” and sees some value in transactional politics.
“Politics in New Jersey is a lot about relationships, and it’s about building those over time. And having conversations with people about nothing in particular,” Hale said.
“And because Phil Murphy comes not from politics, but he comes from the private sector, he doesn’t have those relationships. And they take time to build,” Hale said. “But it seems to me that he certainly got the message that he needs to start doing that. He needs to start having those conversations, start building those relationships, so that when he needs them, they’re there for him.”
Dworkin said it will take more than one example to believe Murphy and Sweeney turned a corner in their political relationship.
“Until we see that dynamic repeated multiple times, we have to reasonably consider it a one-off,” Dworkin said.
At their joint news conference Monday, the limits on their cooperation were shown when a reporter jokingly asked if the governor and legislative leaders were now going to work together on raising income taxes on income over $1 million.
“So glad you asked that,” Murphy said, laughing.
“What? What? I didn’t hear that,” Sweeney joked.
“I said we could work together,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex. “I didn’t say we’d capitulate.”