UP IN SMOKE: Legal marijuana bill canceled, didn’t have the votes
TRENTON -- There will be no vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey Monday, after legislative leaders struggled to get together enough votes to pass a bill.
That leaves uncertain when the state Legislature will try again -- though legislative leaders say they're resolute it will.
Other bills announcing an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program and making expungements for past marijuana offenses easier have also been scuttled for now.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, immediately after announcing no vote would take place, expressed a "firm commitment" to legalizing marijuana .
“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy," he said.
He praised Gov. Phil Murphy for working with himself and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and pledged "this fight is not over.,"
“I’m disappointed that the legislature was not able to secure sufficient support necessary to approve the adult-use cannabis, medicinal marijuana and expungement bills today, but this is still a historic day. We moved closer to the goal than ever before," Coughlin said in an announcement from his office Monday.
Sweeney has previously said if a vote didn't occur today, marijuana legislation could have to wait until next year.
The calendar has been the main reason today loomed as a key date. After today's hearings, most legislative action goes on hiatus for seven weeks while budget committees hold intensive hearings. At minimum, that makes a vote before the spring unlikely.
“While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage. The Senate was very close to 21 votes and, with more education and advocacy, I believe we will get this legislation across the finish line," Sweeney said.
Several counts put the state Senate at two to three supporters short of enough votes to pass the proposed legal marijuana bill, though there was enough support in the state Assembly to pass that chamber.
“This is an issue that isn’t going away. We’ve made a few mistakes, we’ll fix them, we’ll move forward and come back. The legalization or marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey one way or another," Senate President Steve Sweeney said at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
“We’ve gotten much farther than we ever expected," Senator Nick Scutari said.
Sweeney said the next vote will happen "as soon as I know I have 21 votes for sure."
At the press conference, Sweeney said overcoming objections of two of his colleagues will be challenging.
“There are some people who are philosophically opposed, period. Sen. Rice, I have the greatest respect for Senator Rice. He believes this is bad policy. So you have some people, Sen. Fred Maddens, former head of the State Police. You have some people who are opposed to the legalization of the adult use of marijuana," Sweeney said.
The legalization bill was one of about 60 up for a vote during the Senate session scheduled to start at noon. A related bill, S3205, would make it possible to expunge the records for possession up to 5 pounds and waive fees for processing.
"This is a huge victory for us. They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong," Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action and a former drug policy adviser to the Obama Administration, said.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, predicts the bill, which his group opposed, is dead.
“We don’t think legalization is coming back for a winning vote. We think that this is done. We agree with one thing Gov. Murphy said last week, which was Monday or never,” Sabet said.