New Jersey’s long journey to legalize recreational adult-use marijuana remains mired in what is rapidly becoming a standoff between the governor and the Legislature. For the moment, neither side is showing any sign of budging.
Companion bills to legalize and decriminalize marijuana were passed nearly a month ago. Gov. Phil Murphy has not signed them into law and he is demanding a third bill be passed that would specify penalties for minors caught with marijuana.
The requested “cleanup” bill was drafted, but abruptly pulled last week when several senators refused to support it — including sponsors Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex). A floor vote scheduled for Monday was canceled.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative in November, amending the state Constitution in order to legalize marijuana. It was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but the bills translating that mandate into reality have yet to be passed.
Sens. Ron Rice and Nia Gill, both Essex County Democrats, led the charge against the cleanup bill last week in a heated caucus discussion. They argued, in essence, that it created a number of scenarios that could push Black and brown minors into the criminal justice system — which defies the underlying, social-justice intentions of the legislation.