N.J. could vote to legalize weed today. Or it could fall apart. Here’s the latest.
New Jersey on Monday could finally move just one step away from legalizing marijuana.
Or we may end up with months more of waiting.
After a year and a half of debate and delays, both houses of the state Legislature are scheduled to vote on an historic but controversial bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in the Garden State.
If the legislation passes at the Statehouse in Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy — who promised legal pot during his election campaign — needs only to sign it into law for New Jersey to become the 11th U.S. state to legalize weed. It would be just the second state to do so legislatively, rather than through a public voter referendum.
Also at stake are two bills that have been tied to this measure: one that would expand the state’s oft-criticized medial marijuana program and another that would expunge thousands of pot convictions in the state.
But whether the vote actually happens Monday is still unclear.
Murphy and his fellow Democratic state leaders have spent the last week trying to wrangle enough votes for the Democratic-sponsored measure to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature. And they reached out throughout the weekend to lawmakers either against the bill or on the fence, three sources with direct knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media.
Nevertheless, it’s still uncertain whether they’ve gathered the 21 votes they need in the state Senate and the 41 they need in the state Assembly.
Sources say it’s likely the bill will pass the Assembly. But as of Sunday night, sources said there were only 18 secured “yes” votes in the Senate. That would leave leaders three votes short less than 24 hours before the voting session.
Thus, the outcome may not be clear until Monday morning, when lawmakers begin to gather at the Statehouse.
“We’re pushing hard,” one source said of Murphy and legislative leaders.
If the votes aren’t guaranteed Monday, it’s likely the vote will be canceled and another may not be scheduled until the end of the year.
Murphy made legalizing pot a major campaign vow two years ago. And the state’s top Democratic lawmakers also support the plan. They say it will increase tax revenue for the state, create a whole new industry, and improve social justice because black people are three times more likely to be arrested on pot charges than whites.
“We have one chance to undo extraordinary social injustices that have built up over decades in a way that no state … in the history of our republic has ever done,” Murphy said at a recent news conference.
Recent polls show a majority of New Jerseyans support legal weed.
But many lawmakers from both major political parties have been against the plan, saying it could damage public safety, lead people to more dangerous drug use, and hurt communities of color.
The battle for votes heated up so much this week that actress Whoopi Goldberg, a West Orange resident, made calls to lawmakers to sway them.