The east coast cannabis industry had a wild ride Wednesday: as word spread around New York that lawmakers were coming together over an amended adult use bill, a compromise, Senate President Steve Sweeney in neighboring New Jersey declared the push for a bill to legalize adult use in his state officially over.
“Adult use marijuana will be legalized in New Jersey but it won’t happen now,” Sweeney said in a statement, adding that legalization is now likely to be left to voters in the 2020 election. Sweeny has been head-to-head with Governor Phil Murphy, who promised to legalize cannabis for adult use upon taking office last year.
“It would have been best to move the adult use and medical expansion bills at the same time, but it is wrong to hold the medical and expungements bills hostage. We want to move forward to help transform the state’s medical marijuana program and to achieve the progressive reforms for social justice.”
Sweeney’s sentiments echoed those expressed by Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon to Cannabis Wire Tuesday after O’Scanlon held a press conference to urge his fellow lawmakers to separate the medical effort to give it a chance.
“If we go much longer, [a medical bill] will get lost in the shuffle of the final budget negotiations, and then it could remain attached to recreational for months or a year. And that’s not right,” O’Scanlon told Cannabis Wire. “I respect the position of folks who wanted the social justice issue of recreational legalization tied to the medical benefits from a medical expansion, I get it. But, it is looking like the votes aren’t there for recreational legalization. If that’s the case, then we need to separate these things.”
Lawmakers are now expected to move on expanding the medical program by July.
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The ACLU of New Jersey tweeted that the failure to pass legalization in the state was a “profound disservice” to the 35,000 residents arrested each year for cannabis-related crimes. “The Legislature may have stopped this bill but the people of NJ will continue the fight with justice in mind.”
Sweeney, along with Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, is a sponsor of S-3205, which would expand the number of categories of people eligible to have their records expunged.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said in a statement that he was “pleased to learn” that Sweeney “plans to act” in the expungement plan, because it will “give thousands of New Jerseyans the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and clean the slate making it easier to gain employment, buy a home or get a loan.”
Meanwhile, in New York, lawmakers are preparing to renew their push with an amended version of their Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). While Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried for months to pass legalization through the state budget, that specific effort fell apart. Both Cuomo and lawmakers have put forward legalization plans, though there were previously several key areas of difference, including around equity and vertical integration.
Lawmakers, aiming to make enough tweaks to round up the Senate votes needed to pass legalization, are “still working on the details, and it probably won’t be presented until next week,” Kevin Jolly, spokesperson for Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, bill’s main sponsor in the state Assembly, told Cannabis Wire.
“Social equity remains a key part of this legislation and the Majority Leader remains optimistic that a fair and equitable bill will be passed by the end of the legislative session,” Jolly said.
The revised MRTA “will incorporate the best of the governor’s proposal and many of the concerns that came up in the budget discussions,” Senator Liz Krueger, the bill’s sponsor in the senate, told Cannabis Wire.
Still, the biggest enemy of legalization in New York might, once again, be time. Lawmakers will have to find ground on which to agree by June 19. Krueger remains hopeful.
“There is still time to act this year to legalize adult-use marijuana, with carefully crafted regulations, and to do so in a way that restores and empowers the communities most impacted by the drug war,” Krueger told Cannabis Wire.
Krueger told WAMC this week that she believes the expansion of the medical cannabis program and adult-use legalization should go hand-in-hand, which the amendments will do. In addition, the bill would create a sole government agency to regulate all aspects of cannabis and hemp products, and also includes equity provisions aimed at using cannabis tax dollars to reinvest in communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws.
Krueger has said that, like New Jersey, the Senate is still falling short of enough votes to pass legalization, so she wants the Assembly to push their measure through first, so Cuomo can flip enough senators to pass the measure, WAMC reported.