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Lawmakers eye November committee vote on marijuana

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The state's top Democrats are aiming to pass a bill out of committee later this month that would legalize adult-use marijuana, but it remains unclear when the Legislature would vote on such a bill.

Appearing Wednesday at the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said they want the vote out of committee by the end of the month.

“If we don’t have an agreement on a piece of legislation, then we’re not going to put a bill on [Gov. Phil Murphy’s] desk,” said Sweeney, D-3rd District.

“We put together a bill [and] we’re going to look to get that placed in a committee this month,” added Coughlin, D-19th District. “We’ll work hard to see whether we can get that passed. We certainly have the votes to get that out of committee.”

There currently are three bills pending in the Senate on marijuana: one to expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program; one to legalize, tax and regulate adult-use cannabis; and another to handle expungement and other social justice aspects.

There are no Assembly versions of the bills.

"It really is going to take the administration to weigh in on this. I am saying the governor needs to get me some votes.”

Senate President Stephen Sweeney

Lawmakers initially wanted a full vote out of the Legislature by the end of the summer. The date was later shifted to September and then Oct. 29.

Sweeney said he and Coughlin are largely in agreement on a marijuana bill. All that remains is help from the governor’s office.

“The only way this gets passed is with all three branches pushing together,” Sweeney said. “If they’re not going to lobby any votes for us, then it won’t get done. … It really is going to take the administration to weigh in on this. I am saying the governor needs to get me some votes.”

Sweeney shot down the notion of a public ballot to legalize recreational marijuana, such as what Michigan did during the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Although polls indicate the public would likely support the measure, making any potential changes to the law would prove difficult, Sweeney said.

“We really are trying to avoid that, because it makes it harder to adjust,” Sweeney said. “We’d much rather do it legislatively.”

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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