New Jersey tried to legalize marijuana this past month, but the plan didn’t go through. Now the state is formulating a second attempt, but it could backfire if not properly executed.
The following is a re-post of an article written by Payton Guiton for NJ Advance Media (NJ.com)
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From the early days of marijuana legalization talk in New Jersey last year, the bill to make weed legal in the state has been joined at the hip with another bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program.
The idea has been that the broad support enjoyed by medical marijuana could help lawmakers pass legalization at the same time.
But this could now change as the glue binding the two bills is showing its first signs of cracking.
Three legislative sources told NJ Cannabis Insider that discussions have started on separating the medical and legalization bills and considering them separately.
Two of those sources, who asked not to be identified because they hadn’t been authorized to speak about the situation, said Plan A is still to pass the bills together. Lawmakers wanted to leverage the support of medical marijuana into the passage of adult-use cannabis. Unbinding the bills is a backup plan, they said.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he’s “still focused on getting adult-use” passed.
But since lawmakers haven’t been able to do that yet, other options have surfaced.
After a vote last month on both legalization and medical marijuana expansion was cancelled because leaders couldn’t muster enough votes, Gov. Phil Murphy said he would expand the state’s constrained medical marijuana program by himself if lawmakers couldn’t do it soon.
Murphy’s response was partly in reaction to criticism from medical marijuana advocates, who suggested that lawmakers and the governor were putting legalization above patients.
Sweeney said last week that Murphy’s pledge to expand the medical marijuana program was hurting his efforts to swing votes in favor of legalization. Now, the Legislature is weighing the expansion of medical marijuana without legalization, even if it could hurt the chances of passing recreational cannabis later on.
State Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, said he opposes the bills being considered separately because a medical marijuana expansion alone doesn’t help people who have been negatively affected by marijuana prohibition. Some of the main goals of the legalization bill are to stop marijuana arrests and allow people to clear their old marijuana convictions.
“This proposal, which has been debated and negotiated for more than a year, must remain intact,” Holley said in an email. “If we start breaking up this bill, we are creating more disparity and more divisiveness, ensuring nothing productive will occur. Medical marijuana patients are just as important as people in our minority communities who have been affected by the so-called War on Drugs.”
The two bills have long been tied together because legislative leaders anticipated that the high level of support for medical marijuana could be used to convince on-the-fence lawmakers to vote “yes” for legalization. Some lawmakers fear that if the Legislature passes a medical marijuana expansion, there won’t be an appetite for legalization and the social justice goals that are part of the effort.
“This is a question of equality,” Holley said. “We are supposed to be practical. We are supposed to be responsive. And we are supposed to be working toward a fairer New Jersey, right?”
But considering the bills together hasn’t worked so far, and it has left lawmakers considering other options.
“If legalization isn’t in the cards at this moment, then maximize what you can,” said Hugh O’Beirne, president of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association. “But it’s a definite change from what we’ve been seeing.
Legislators are still eyeing sometime in May to hold another legalization vote, but no specific date has been set.
This story first appeared in NJ Cannabis Insider.
This article was first published on https://www.cannabisimp.com.