NEW JERSEY – After failing to muster the votes in the State Legislature, lawmakers are trying to have the general public vote on marijuana legalization.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Nicholas Scutari, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a joint statement announcing the introduction of legislation to seek voter approval of a constitutional amendment to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey.
“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” the statement read. “We will have the Legislature vote on the plan during the current legislative session and expect the proposal to be on the ballot in 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.”
As of right now, the text on the ballot would read “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis?’ Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”
Sweeney and Scutari characterized the marijuana issue as a debate of social justice and conscience.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who had legalization as a campaign promise, agreed.
“My belief that our current marijuana laws have failed every test of social justice and that the right course is to legalize its use by adults has not changed,” he said. “I am disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo – which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color – will continue. However, I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November.”
Earlier, state lawmakers tried to get legalization passed, but it was unpopular. A vote was planned for a package of bills that would legalize adult use marijuana, expunge records of people charged with possession of up to 5 pounds, and expand medicinal marijuana use.
However, when Democrat leaders were trying to find out how much support there was, they came up short on definite “yes” votes. Sweeney said during a press conference back then that they decided not to put it up to vote because it would be defeated. So instead they pushed “pause” on it, so they could work to get more support. He also noted during that press conference that if it was on the ballot in November of 2019, it wouldn’t do well because it was not a presidential election and not as many people would vote.
However, some people feel that by tying the more popular expungement bill to the less popular recreational vote, it doomed the expungement bill.
When Murphy Tweeted his support of a 2020 referendum, a slew of Twitter users said he could push for expungement now if he was really concerned with social justice. Instead, 600 arrests a week will continue to happen for another year.
Expungement would help people who have minor offenses have a more productive future, Sen. Robert Singer (R-30th) told a group at an affordable housing assembly in Lakewood earlier this year. “Too many young lives have been ruined for having a small amount of marijuana.”
Even if the legislature is torn on recreational marijuana, they should still move forward with the expungement of people’s record, he had said.
“Expungement is a separate bill that we still intend to do,” a spokesman for the state Democrats said.
Several governing bodies of local towns, like Berkeley, have already made it illegal to sell recreational marijuana within town limits. A move like this was tabled in Toms River because, officials said, any statewide law would supersede local. Therefore, they were waiting to see what form it took on the state level so they could respond.