Could New Jersey Legalize Marijuana Before the End of the Month?

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney is confident he’ll get the votes to fully legalize marijuana by the end of September.

A top New Jersey lawmaker believes there will be enough votes to both legalize recreational marijuana and expand the state’s medical marijuana program by the end of the month.

New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Legislature is close to completing drafts of both bills, which together would revolutionize the state’s marijuana industry. The first measure would expand the state’s medical marijuana program, while the second would fully legalize recreational marijuana.

In a recent sit-down interview with POLITICO, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Union) said he’s confident that he and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) can secure the votes needed to approve the two far-reaching cannabis reform bills sometime in September.

While Sweeney acknowledges that “there’s some people that will never support it,” he said he believes that some others are simply holding off on disclosing support until the legislation is finalized.

“Don’t be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it,” he said.

Working on the legislation is Sweeney, Coughlin, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Somerset), and Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union).

While lawmakers are still hammering out the details, media reports indicate that they have already reached a consensus on some terms of the bills. Among the conditions being considered are home delivery of both medicinal and recreational cannabis, the automatic expungement of criminal records of those with some marijuana convictions, and the establishment of a marijuana advisory commission to regulate both markets. Lawmakers have also yet to decide how marijuana should be taxed.

September is well within the timeline of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to legalize marijuana sometime this year. He made a pledge to legalize recreational marijuana central to his electoral campaign last year.

Sweeney has said he doesn’t want the legislature to vote on the medical marijuana expansion bill until the full recreational marijuana legalization legislature gets a vote.

Sweeney and Scutari introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in June, but efforts to push the bill through stalled.

“Listen, we’re going to need to work with [Republicans] to pass it,” Sweeney said. “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.”

The Senate needs 21 votes and the Assembly needs 41 votes to pass measures.

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Support from New Jersey Voters

New Jersey voters are apparently overwhelmingly on board with lawmakers’ efforts to legalize marijuana. A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows that 62 percent of New Jerseyans favor ending cannabis prohibition, compared to 33 percent who believe marijuana should remain illegal.

A majority of support was found across nearly all demographics, including Democrats, independents, men, women, whites, nonwhites, and every age group except for those older than 65 years.

The level of support found by Quinnipiac University is slightly higher than that of a survey conducted earlier this year by Monmouth University. In April, 59 percent of New Jersey residents said they supported legalizing the possession of small amounts of personal use marijuana.

As state lawmakers debate cannabis policy, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in July directed county and municipal prosecutors to temporarily suspend cases stemming from marijuana-related offenses.

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