State Senate President, Stephen Sweeney, says he is confident he will have the votes to make marijuana legal. Wednesday, August 22, 2018 Kevin R. Wexler, NorthJersey
There is an old saying about life’s possibilities that goes something like this: “Brother, as long as you are green, you can grow.”
That might be another way to describe New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to join a growing number of states seeking to legalize recreational, or so-called “adult use,” marijuana, a concept we support, generally speaking, as long as certain criteria — including expungement of some past convictions, clear guidelines for local police and thoughtful statewide regulation — are met.
While campaigning for governor last fall, Phil Murphy vowed to make marijuana legal in his first 100 days in office. But like a slew of other Murphy initiatives, full pot legalization hasn’t gone quite as planned. There has been push-back from various quarters, including prominent Sen. Ronald L. Rice, a Democrat and a leading voice in the legislative Black Caucus. Later, legalization efforts got chewed up during in the machinery of tense negotiations over the budget, which had to be completed by July 1.
Somehow, though, the pot legalization has not lost much energy at the state level, though it has been muted, perhaps, both by independent towns taking stances against legalization and by factions warring within the Legislature. Last month, legalization efforts got a boost when Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who had been on the fence, came out in support.
“Use of marijuana is still a constant. Three out of five drug arrests are for marijuana. African-Americans are three times more likely to get arrested for marijuana,” Coughlin said. “We’re trying to address those things, and I think, if you got the right bill, we’ll go ahead and try to pass it.”
Coughlin’s new enthusiasm came about the same time that a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey investigation reported that nearly 11 percent of all arrests in New Jersey are for marijuana possession, the highest percentage in the state. More than 32,000 arrests occurred in 2016, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
When Senate President Stephen Sweeney visited The Record and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey last month, he predicted that legalization legislation could be passed by the end of September. Time will tell whether the current bill has the votes for final passage. Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin all agree that New Jersey should become the ninth state, and the first on the East Coast south of Massachusetts, to permit marijuana sales to anyone 21 and older.
In the meantime, Murphy has made more concrete progress on the medicinal cannabis front, which languished too long during Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure. Under Murphy’s watch, the state has already added a new dispensary with plans for six more and has also expanded the list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used, including conditions such as anxiety and Tourette’s syndrome.
And now, as Staff Writer James Nash reported, the state has received a whopping 146 applications to run six new planned retail shops — two in each region of the state — that would sell the drug to more than 30,000 people authorized to take it for debilitating conditions. This is a “light years” step forward from the Christie era, and a positive development.
The enthusiasm regarding six new medicinal cannabis franchises is an overwhelmingly clear sign of the potential and popularity of full-fledged legalization. The state is not quite there yet, but the momentum continues to grow, to the point that a final marijuana bill that Murphy will sign is no longer a question of if, but when.