‘No’ or ‘not yet?’ Legal pot backers renew push for vote ASAP
Last week, asked about Monday’s impending vote on recreational marijuana legalization, the governor quoted the King: “It’s now or never, as Elvis Presley used to say."
But Monday’s vote didn’t happen. The bill lacked the support needed in the Senate, so the vote was postponed. Now Murphy’s singing a different song and says the push will continue for a vote – that looks like it could come as soon as May, in order for it to be done before the budget is approved in June.
“History is rarely made at the first attempt,” Murphy said. “History is often a bumpy road of fits and starts of progress and of setbacks. But eventually barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down.”
Murphy said he’s “disappointed, but we are not defeated” and that talks with lawmakers will continue.
“Change is never easy. It takes hard work, and sometimes it takes letting go of long-held opinions,” Murphy said. “Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he’ll call the bill for a vote as soon as he knows he has 21 votes – and that “it could be” sooner than November, despite having insisted earlier that a vote would wait until the election if it didn’t happen Monday.
“We might have lost a fight, but we’re absolutely going to win the war at the end of the day,” he said.
“This is an issue that’s not going away. We’ve learned. We’ve made a few mistakes. We’ll fix them, we’ll move forward and we’ll get back,” Sweeney said. “But legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey, one way or another.”
“I might have underestimated the challenge of getting this passed. I might have underestimated it, but I got to tell you, we don’t fail,” he said. “We’re postponing today, but that in no way means that we failed or we’re walking away from it.”
Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, said the bill will be changed further though didn’t say will change.
“I have no doubt that we will get this passed,” Scutari said. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”
Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said a short delay is acceptable but that marijuana laws – particularly the program for medical marijuana patients – needs to change. Medical marijuana and expungement bills tied to legalization were also delayed Monday.
“If this is a temporary setback and we’re going to be doing this in May, which is what I’ve heard, that’s fine,” Rudder said. “It allows more senators to get some of their concerns addressed. If this turns into something that gets postponed to the fall, clearly much more disappointed in that.”
Kevin Sabet, president of legalization-opponent Smart Approaches to Marijuana, predicted the bill will never pass, given concerns about drugged drivers and the potency of the products that would be sold. But he expects the Legislature will keep pushing.
“It all fell apart because what they tried to do is please everybody with this bill, and in effect they didn’t please anybody to switch votes,” Sabet said. “… We don’t think this is going to pass. I mean, sure, this is politics. Anything can happen. You can promise the moon to someone and maybe they’ll change their mind. But it just, logic tells you right now there’s nothing that’s going to change some people’s minds.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said he was confident the Assembly could have passed the bill Monday but chose to fall back and regroup.
“We all remain committed to enacting fair and responsible legislation that will be groundbreaking and a national model,” Coughlin said. “We did a good job. These are good bills. They accomplish a lot.”
“We still have a ways to go, apparently,” he said. “But it’s not a goal that we can’t achieve. I’m committed to making sure that we continue to work to get this bill over the goal line.”
“It’s not a hard ‘no,’” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Essex. “It’s just little bit of a setback and a ‘not yet.’”
“We were a few votes short,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union. “That means we just have to work a little harder.”
The bill lacked the 21 votes it would need to pass in the Senate. There were varied and conflicting rumors about how close the bill was, though Sweeney implied it was four votes short.
“Look, the question was more in the Senate than the Assembly. One day you’re at 20, the next day you’re at 16, the next day you’re at 17. It was kind of like Whac-a-Mole, you’re trying to figure it out,” Sweeney said. “But at the end, we had to take a vote. And I wasn’t going to put it up with 17 votes because that means it’s a defeat. This wasn’t a defeat. It’s a pause.
“And now we’re going to go back and look at it. We’re going to do a post-op. We’ll figure out what we can change to change minds,” Sweeney said. “The one great thing is the governor spoke to a lot of legislators, as we did. And we know their issues, what they have and what they don’t have. If we make changes to keep the core principles and get the job done, then we’re going to do it.”
Coughlin said there remains a “window of opportunity” to pass the bill before the budget dominates proceedings in June.
“What we need to do is do a post mortem on the events of the past weekend and see where we think we can make some changes or provide some assurance to people or to provide some understanding to some of the members, so that they’re confident and comfortable moving forward the next time we put it up,” Coughlin said.