State Senator President, Steve Sweeny on Monday cancelled a scheduled vote on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and broaden expungements of past offense. It came as a major defeat for the New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and to those who second the motion.
“I may have under-estimated the challenge of getting this passed,” a despondent Sweeney said during a press conference at the Statehouse after the vote was postponed. “That means in a way that we failed.”
After a day of extensive negotiations last week, leaders in the legislature had high hopes from the vote to advance the bill in both chambers. Gov. Phil Murphy had called for legalization of recreational marijuana in his initial office days in January, 2019.
Murphy said that by legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, the failed drug policies that rendered inequality and unfairness from years could be reversed and also the public safety resources could be put to better use.
Nonetheless, it is unclear when the bill will be passed and the Senate will take up legalization again. Both Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Sweeny, the bill’s lead sponsor, said that there is a possibility for the bill to seek another vote before November.
Sen. Scutari, in another press conference on Monday afternoon, said that he would be willing to make some changes in the bill in order to bring more senators on board for its support. However, he denied to say anything specific to the provisions that could possibly be tweaked.
As per the record, Sweeny and Murphy were four or five votes short for having the bill passed showing enough support.
“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,” Sweeney said in a statement issued shortly after noon.
“Governor Murphy has shown real leadership in driving this issue. He worked with Speaker [Craig] Coughlin, with me and with the bill’s sponsors and social justice advocates in a shared commitment to change failed drug laws and reform the criminal justice system,“ Sweeney said. “This fight is not over. We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward.
Leaders in legislature said that they wouldn’t bring the measure up to the vote if they weren’t reassured the 21 votes required for the passage in the Senate and the 41 needed in the state Assembly (source: NJ.com).
Over the last week, Murphy had worked to convince several lawmakers and voters who opposed the motion or were neutral about their decision regarding marijuana legalization, turning them into the favour of it.
On the other hand, Sweeney had still not convinced several South Jersey Democrats to put their vote in support of the bill. Two sources with the knowledge of the whip count said that Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) would show her support if the bill was pushed, however, she remained unenthusiastic.
Sen. James Beach (D-Camden), Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington) and Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) were not expected to vote in favour of the bill. In North Jersey, Sen. Ron Rice and former Gov. Richard Codey, both Essex County Democrats, were also opposed.
“Anybody who thinks this is dead — they’re wrong,” Sweeney said.