Marijuana opponents make last-ditch bid to prevent referendum
TRENTON — With a burst of legislative activity beginning Thursday that could end with a marijuana legalization proposal making it onto New Jersey’s 2020 ballot, opponents began a last-ditch effort to derail it Wednesday.
Identical resolutions – SCR183 and ACR840 – will be the subject of public hearings Thursday in the Senate Commerce Committee and Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee. The public testimony is the last step before the full Senate and Assembly can vote on the resolutions, which is scheduled to happen Monday.
If the resolutions are approved by a supermajority of at least 24 members of the Senate and 48 members of the Assembly, the constitutional amendment will be on the 2020 ballot. If it’s passed by a simple majority but not a three-fifths majority, a second vote would be required after Jan. 14.
Stephen Reid, executive director of NJ-Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, said such a vote would be detrimental and wants lawmakers to oppose it.
“This is just one way to skirt the system and basically invite Big Business into New Jersey,” Reid said. “What’s going to happen if this gets approved on Monday, you will have Big Business, the Big Tobacco business will be back in business here in New Jersey.”
Mary Pat Angelini, a former state assemblywoman and the chief executive officer of Preferred Behavioral Health Group, said lawmakers are rushing to put the question on the ballot rather than assess the impacts marijuana legalization has had in other states.
“The elected officials are shirking their duty because they’re not doing their due diligence on this, and they’re saying, ‘OK, we will let New Jersey vote’ without a full perspective of what the issue entails,” Angelini said. “Our legislators were elected to make tough decisions, and I think that it’s time for them to do that.”
Abu Edwards, director of state and local affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM Action, said the proposed ballot question doesn’t do enough to explain the issue to voters.
“Putting together a 160-word form to put in front of our voters in our districts does not tell the story of the impact this drug would do to our communities,” Edwards said.
Marijuana legalization is a priority of Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders, but it lacked the votes in the Senate to be enacted directly. Even if the constitutional amendment is passed, it would still require the Legislature to pass enabling legislation – but at that point, would be done with voters’ approval.
Opponents of marijuana legalization said they expect they’d be significantly outspent if there is a referendum campaign next year. Reid said his side has raised millions to spend on campaigns in other states but seemed skeptical that would happen here.
“We are the David in the Goliath fight. There’s no other way to say it,” Reid said. “We don’t have the money like the big lobbyists across the street.”
“Anyone with any business savvy knows if you’re going to invest over $1 million in ads and advertisements, what is the return on your investment?” said Melissa Robbins, a field organizer for SAM Action. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be the lives of our loved ones.”