A majority of New Jersey residents support legal marijuana, polls show.
The majority of state legislators in Trenton do not.
In March, the Democratic-controlled Legislature scuttled a vote to legalize weed for adult recreational use when state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said there weren’t enough lawmakers on board to pass the bill.
“We recognize that the votes [in Trenton] just aren’t there,” said Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union) in a joint statement issued Monday. “We respect the positions taken by legislators on what is an issue of conscience.”
So Sweeney and Scutari want the voters to decide.
On Monday, they introduced a bill that will have the Legislature vote to allow the matter to be determined at the ballot box.
The two state senators said their proposal “will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”
Gov. Phil Murphy ran on a platform that included legalization. It’s believed that a squabble between Murphy and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross over the awarding of tax credits led to the collapse of support in the legislature for legalization.
“I’m not calling it a Plan B, but I guess you could say that,” Scutari told The Inquirer. “It wasn’t the initial road we wanted to travel. But we feel comfortable we’ll have enough votes. Once word gets out there that this is a viable alternative, I think it makes it more likely that the legislators will punt and support it as a ballot question. And we’re formulating that question as we speak.”
If the legislators approve, the question will appear on the ballot in November 2020, when voter turnout will be maximized for the national election. “We are confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters,” said Sweeney and Scutari in a statement.
Murphy said that he has “faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November.”
If voters approve the ballot question, legal cannabis could be on sale in the Garden State as soon as 2021.
But that conclusion is far from certain. The national anti-cannabis group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, will continue to fight legalization in New Jersey.
“With the effort moving to the ballot box, we will work to counter the industry’s well-tuned misinformation campaign, educate voters to the harms marijuana legalization has brought to the handful of states that have adopted it, and defeat the industry in the Garden State once and for all,” said the group’s president, Kevin Sabet.
About a dozen states and Washington have already legalized marijuana for recreational use.