Deal Reached for Legal Weed in NJ
After months of negotiations, State Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Gov. Phil Murphy have a final agreement to legalize marijuana in New Jersey.
Sources close to the negotiations confirmed the deal to New Jersey 101.5, but also confirmed at present there were not enough votes in either the Senate or Assembly to pass the bill into law. The sources did not wish to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the legislation.
Appearing on Townsquare Media's New Jersey 101.5 last Thursday, Sweeney said a deal on a bill was “this close,” but one major hurdle remained. He warned if a bill could not be produced this week, legalization would likely have to wait until the end of the year. A formal announcement could come as early as today.
During a tax incentive press conference with Murphy on Monday in South Amboy, Coughlin said his goal was to vote on legalization legislation on March 25.
With a deal now in place, that leaves little time to convince enough members of the Assembly and Senate to support it. During his appearance on New Jersey 101.5, Sweeney would not talk about how many votes he has, but some prominent members of his Democratic caucus are opposed.
State Sen. Ronald Rice has been a strong opponent of legalization, instead favoring decriminalizing marijuana possession. He released a letter in September critical of the path to legalization being talked about by Sweeney and State Sen. Nick Scutari, saying the two were “trying to fast track a bill under the auspices of social justice and helping black and brown people," TapInto.Net reported at the time. "If truth be told, it’s not about helping us. It is, as always, people making money at our expense.”
Rice could be a powerful voice of opposition in the Legislature. In the Assembly, as many as six Democrats have voiced concerns about legalization, but it’s unclear how many are truly opposed.
During Monday's press conference, Coughlin spoke about the need to get the legislation "right," acknowledging that legalizing marijuana is a "seismic shift in policy and the creation of a new industry."
Gov. Murphy has included $60 million in revenue from legal marijuana in his proposed budget. Murphy has committed to helping Sweeney and Coughlin convince enough lawmakers in their respective houses to assure passage.