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New Jersey Lawmakers Await Next Governor Before Moving to Legalize Marijuana

Chris Christie, the deeply unpopular outgoing governor, is a vehement marijuana opponent but the political winds are shifting.

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Dismissing a recent lengthy and passionate argument by Gov. Chris Christie against legalized marijuana, New Jersey lawmakers plan to push ahead with a bill that would make recreational marijuana legal in the Garden State.

Jeff Zelevansky | Getty Images

Meanwhile, the issue could become the central debate in this year’s race to see who will replace Christie as governor.

New Jersey’s decision on legal marijuana is significant. The state could join Massachusetts and Maine as the only eastern states to legalize recreational marijuana sales.

Maine joined Massachusetts in approving legalization in the election last November. Up until that vote, recreational marijuana had been a movement only in the West, with Colorado, Oregon and Washington leading the way.

Christie’s rant against legalized marijuana received a great deal of press coverage, but as the outgoing governor he will likely have little influence over what eventually happens on the issue, other than speaking publicly against it.

Related: New Data Shows Medical Marijuana Consumers Far Outspend Recreational Users

Waiting Christie Out

Democrats in the New Jersey state Legislature are likely to simply wait for Christie to step down in January 2018 before seeking approval for legalized marijuana from his successor. But that didn’t keep Christie from speaking on the issue this month.

His most notable comment was calling marijuana legalization “beyond stupidity,” and labeling legalization of marijuana as “nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything is OK.” He also said Democrats who back the measure are trying to “poison our kids.”

His statements got a lot of press coverage, but state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has said he will support the legislation, said afterward that Christie is wrong and he expects the measure will go forward.

Senator is a strong advocate.

The leader in the legal marijuana cause is state Sen. Nick Scutari, who has introduced legislation in the past to extend the use of medical marijuana to disorders such as post-traumatic stress syndrome.  

Scutari has not been deterred by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana legalization stance, saying he hopes the Trump Administration will consider it a state’s rights issue.

However, getting legislation signed into law will likely require approval from Christie’s successor, which has made a stance on legalized marijuana an issue in this year’s election.

Democrat front-runner for governor favors legalization.

Phil Murphy, who Christie demonized in his press conference, is the frontrunner in the governor’s race on the Democratic side. He has said he supports legalizing recreational marijuana.

At a debate this month, Murphy repeated his support for legalization and packaged it as part of widespread reforms in the criminal justice system. He wants changes in mandatory minimum sentences and for private companies to get out of the prison business.

Related: Researchers Amazed by Cases of Cannabis Helping Children Failed by Conventional Medicine

The stance of the leading Republican is unclear. New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is the frontrunner in the race. Whether she will give New Jersey voters a clear choice on the marijuana issue is unknown. She has remained silent about her position on legal marijuana.

In fact, it’s difficult to come up with any comment by Guadagno whatsoever on the issue – it certainly couldn’t be found by Vote Smart. 

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