New Jersey Marijuana Legalization This Year May Not Be Dead After All [FEATURE]

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he wanted marijuana legalized. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he wanted it, too, and Assembly Leader Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) was also on board. But the state's most powerful politicians couldn't get their act together enough to actually get marijuana legalization passed earlier this year, and despite all the initial excitement, it seemed like New Jersey was doomed to endure another year of pot prohibition.

Now, though, it's looking like Garden Staters may end up enjoying an unexpected Christmas present after all. Last week, both Sweeney and Murphy were making noises about reviving the stalled legalization effort before year's end.

"I'm not going to give up trying. I would love to do it. We'll make one more run at it," Sweeney told NJ.com last Wednesday. He added that he believed an agreement among himself, Coughlin, and Murphy on the language in the bill would be enough to get it through the legislature.

That prompted a quick expression of support from Murphy, who campaigned on marijuana legalization in 2017 and once vowed to get it done by the end of 2018.

Last Thursday, Murphy told the PhillyVoice that he was "happy to hear" Sweeney wanted to move again on legalization. "I was encouraged to see that, and count me all in to try and work toward that," he said. "Getting something to happen sooner if we have a real shot at it, I'd be all in for that."

Sources close to Sweeney said the renewed push to get legalization through would come after the November elections, most likely during the lame duck session between Election Day and January.

That's a real turnaround for Sweeney, who announced in May that he was ending efforts to pass the bill because he didn't have the votes for it. At the time, he said the most likely path to legalization was for the state's voters to decide the issue in a November 2020 ballot referendum. But that would mean another year of prohibition.

Sweeney and Murphy were also at odds over investigations by the administration into whether corporations misused tax breaks in the past. One of the companies being scrutinized is owned by state Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a Sweeney ally. Once the investigations got underway, negotiations between Sweeney and Murphy over the pot bill stalled.

What has prompted Sweeney to change his mind now and whether he has the five votes he lacked in May remains unclear, but the Senate leader is definitely signaling he's ready to try to push the bill though.

It would be the popular thing to do. A February Monmouth University poll had support for legalization at 62 percent, with just 32 percent opposed. The people of New Jersey are ready; now, it's up to the politicians to get it done.

If New Jersey does legalize it this year, it will become the 11th state to do so and the second one to do so this year, after Illinois. And it will beat neighboring New York across the finish line.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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