Steve Sweeney, New Jersey State President, said in an extensive interview with Politico that he thinks the state could very well legalize recreational pot by September’s end. “I am confident we will get to 21 and 41 votes,” he said. The Assembly requires 41 votes and the Senate needs 21 votes to pass measures legalizing the recreational use of weed and grow the state’s medical marijuana program.
Sweeney believes some state Republicans who previously opposed legalization would do an about-turn and support the measure. Last month, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered a stay of prosecution for all cannabis-related offenses until September. Prosecutors cannot prosecute such cases until the law answers the question of legalization.
Sweeney wants a lower tax rate than the 25 percent proposed by Governor Phil Murphy earlier this year. Murphy went on a campaign to expand cannabis laws in New Jersey, and since assuming office in January, has been advocating for legalizing weed. “I do not want the tax rate to be 25 percent,” Sweeney stated, “because then you are just going to keep the black market alive.”
In explanation, Sweeney said, “If you tax it too high, you incentivize people to use the black market because you have raised the price too high.” Back in March, the state Assembly health committee advanced a bill raising the quantity of pot that dispensaries can dispense to patients on a monthly basis from two ounces to four ounces.
The same measure also added five new qualifying conditions for medical weed, namely anxiety, migraines, and pain-related afflictions, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. In April, Brigantine City Council passed an ordinance preemptively prohibiting the sale of weed in the city when recreational use becomes legal, which everyone expects will occur by the end of September.
It seems that New Jersey is closer than ever to joining the ranks of other legal states. Sweeney said it could come as early as next month, and Murphy, during his television show on Tuesday night, wants state leaders to wrap the issue up by year’s end. On “Ask the Governor” on News 12, Murphy said, “I would hope that is this year’s business. If folks are looking for a specific timeframe, I would like to think it is something we get done this year.”
Sweeney agrees. He told reporters earlier this month that, although he believes he has the number of votes to pass it, he has yet to do an official headcount, and lawmakers must first introduce an actual bill. In speaking to NJ Advance Media, Sweeney said, “Until we have a bill to show everybody, you have to have something to show people, we will get it passed. We will get the votes to get it passed. We have just got to present the bill first.”
Murphy’s legalization campaign highlighted the issue as a way to both generate new tax revenues for the state and improve social justice. Once in office, he called on Legislature to pass a bill before the year is out. However, legal weed has drawn criticism from several lawmakers on both Republican and Democratic sides.
Some were squabbling over what the legislation would look like and how it would tie into expanding the state’s medical pot program. This caused much uncertainty as to whether or not New Jersey will meet the January 1 deadline set by Murphy. For any bill to pass into law, both Legislature houses must approve it and send it to Murphy for signing. On his show, Murphy said the measure will apply only to adults 21-years or older.