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Senate opponent to legal cannabis now 'leaning' yes

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Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th district, a key holdout in opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, has changed course and now says he is “leaning to support” such a measure.

Vitale’s potential support comes less than two weeks before a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana is expected to appear in committee for a vote.

“I’ve always had concerns about adult-use and unintended consequences, so I’m just balancing and measuring the pros and the cons,” Vitale, told NJBIZ Friday.

Vitale said he would likely support a bill legalizing marijuana for people 21 and older. His biggest concerns are traffic safety and whether underage youth would have access.

“We all know that people under the age of 21, whether they’re 20 or 15 or 16, have access to alcohol, whether it’s at home or someone supplies it to them,” Vitale said. “The same will apply to cannabis.”

Many users will “absolutely drive stoned,” Vitale said, “just like people drive drunk.”

“So there’ll be consequences there,” he added.

There are two marijuana bills in the Legislature: one would legalize adult-use marijuana, and the other would expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program - both key priorities for Gov. Phil Murphy.

Lawmakers are now aiming for a Nov. 26 date to hold hearings on the bills in both the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee and the Judiciary committee.

On Wednesday at the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, told reporters that he still needs Gov. Phil Murphy to whip up support in the state Legislature for a bill regarding adult-use marijuana.

Sweeney added that he and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, are both in agreement on what needs to be in the bill. All that remains is Murphy, according to Sweeney.

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

A bill needs 21 “yes” votes to pass in the Senate, where Democrats hold 25 seats. There is currently no Assembly version of the adult-use bill.

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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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