A vote on legalizing adult use of marijuana could take place within the next month and be approved in the Legislature by the end of September, according to Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Sweeney, D-3rd District, initially had set a goal of having legislation for Gov. Phil Murphy to sign by the end of the summer.
“We’re getting closer to two pieces of legislation that’ll be ready to introduce,” Sweeney said. “We’re getting close this week to having the final draft for us to review, and then talk to our members and get ready to go.”
Sweeney indicated he and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, have met for several hours over the past week to discuss how to move forward on legalizing recreational use of marijuana. To become law, the bill would need the approval of the Assembly, Senate and then Murphy.
Coughlin, on the August edition of his monthly “Speak to the Speaker” radio segment, indicated he’s on board with legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
“For folks who don’t want to legalize it, I understand their view. But I would ask, are we satisfied with the status quo?” Coughlin said. “I mean, use of marijuana is still a constant. Three out of five drug arrests are for marijuana. African-Americans are three times more likely to get arrested. So, in trying to address those things, I think if we get the right bill we’ll go ahead and try and pass it.”
Legalizing adult-use marijuana has been a key policy goal of Murphy’s. He has said he wants to sign a bill by the end of the year.
In the spring, Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutrari, D-22nd District, a major advocate on marijuana issues, merged recreational and medicinal marijuana into an omnibus bill, but that fell through.
Even still, Sweeney reiterated he would like to see the medicinal and recreational marijuana bills to advance at the same time. Scutari agrees.
“It’s the same product, just for different purposes,” Scutari said, calling the two “inextricably linked.”
For the time being, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal effectively decriminalized marijuana when he told county prosecutors last month to suspend marijuana cases until Sept. 4 while a working group he assembled hashes out guidelines on how prosecutors should handle low-level marijuana crimes.
That report is expected to be released by the end of August.