TRENTON – A few hours short of glory – that is how the New Jersey marijuana legalization bill will be remembered as it failed in the Senate back in March.
New Jersey’s own governor highly endorsed legalization, with a Monmouth College poll showing the consensus was on board with taxing recreational use. The Democratic state house even backed the effort. It is unclear why support was lost, although key lawmakers promised to continue pushing until it passed Senate.
Senate President Steve Sweeney finally declared on May 15 legalizing marijuana will not happen – yet.
Lawmakers plan to pose the legalization question to 2020 voters, who can make the tough decision whether marijuana in New Jersey would create the type of economic success other states like Colorado are enjoying.
The plan is to establish regulated retail locations through legislation, an unprecedented move nine other states avoided. Only Vermont used legislative action to legal cannabis, although the bill there did not include retail regulation.
New York has seen their quest for legalization ridden by politicking and confusion that killed the New Jersey bill. In New Mexico, a similar bill died before their March legislative session. And in Illinois, policy is moving along quickly although some political opponents believe lawmakers are moving too fast. Vermont needs senatorial and Republican governor support to establish retail operations.
Could it be that New Jersey lacks the political climate to pass the bill legislatively? Or is the best course of action to allow taxpaying voters to decide the fate of recreational marijuana use?
Squabbles over how to tax marijuana and regulate retail sales have been overshadowed by the debate on how to rewrite a decades-old prohibition style of law. Infighting and good old fashioned red-blooded politics have also contributed to the bill being left off future legislative sessions.
Even with recent challenges to legalization efforts, progress has been made – albeit incrementally. Legislation that could expunge marijuana convictions and another that may see medical marijuana are moving through the House and Senate nicely. Until politicians can iron out indifferences, advocates must now wait until 2020 to see if legal weed can make a comeback.