Expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program and/or full cannabis legalization has been just beyond the horizon in New Jersey for most of 2018. Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on full cannabis legalization in the state’s gubernatorial race last year, has said he’d like the state to legalize cannabis by the end of the year.
Murphy’s wishes appear to be a legitimate possibility based on comments from New Jersey Senate President Steven Sweeney. In an interview with POLITICO this week, Sweeney says he has the votes to carry both cannabis measures by September’s end.
One of the major roadblocks Sweeney has faced comes from across the aisle. Though some Republican lawmakers support expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, opposition is heavy from Republicans regarding full cannabis legalization.
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Another roadblock: neither of the bills have been fully drafted, causing major questions from both parties regarding how legal cannabis will look in New Jersey.
“Listen, we’re going to need to work with [Republicans] to pass it,” Sweeney told POLITICO. “I can’t get anyone to make a commitment on something that they have no idea what it looks like, nor would I expect them to make the commitment.”
“Don’t be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it,” Sweeney adding, predicting possible Republican support.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin publicly endorsed recreational cannabis legalization for the first time this month, making it seem like New Jersey’s top lawmakers were in coordination around cannabis. But Sweeney disagreed with Murphy’s previous proposal that cannabis be taxed at a 25 percent rate. In addition, legislators are still seeking clarity around a possible provision that could expunge the records of those with previous cannabis-related convictions.
“I don’t want [the tax rate] to be 25 percent, because then you’re just going to keep the black market alive,” Sweeney told POLITICO. “If you tax it too high, you incentivize people to use the black market because you’ve raised the price too high.”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has instructed prosecutors to suspend any cannabis-related cases until September. The State Health Department also added five more qualifying conditions for its medical marijuana program in March, including migraines, anxiety, and chronic pain.