Legalization Stalls In New Jersey Legislature
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A bill to legalize marijuana use for adults and create what would have been among the nation's largest markets for the booming cannabis industry has stalled in the New Jersey state Senate, a stinging defeat for Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was working with Democrat majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Propents of legalization avoided outright defeat by withdrawing the bill when it became apparent it did not have the 21 votes needed to pass the state Senate. Despite the vigorous backing of the leaders of both houses of the Legislature and the governor, the bill never gained support either from Republican legislators representing suburban and rural areas of the state or from several prominent, and notably older, African American legislators representing urban districts.
“A lot of this is generational,” the Rev. Charles Franklin Boyer, the pastor of the Bethel AME church in Woodbury, told NJ.com. “Many of us who are part of Gen X or millennials have been the victims of the tough-on-crime (drug) laws. We have felt the brunt of mass incarceration, and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone from my generation who’s against legalization."
Among the most steadfast opponents has been state Senator Ron Rice, a Democrat from Newark with many years service in the legislature who was a career Newark policie officer. “In my heart, and from my experience, I know the detriment it’s going to cause long term in urban communities in particular,” Rice told the New York Times. “We know the health problems that are going to be created and no one wants to accept that fact.”
The bill would have created an expedited program for expunging, or at least sealing, the criminal records of anyone convicted of the sale of up to five pounds of marijuana. The five-pound ceiling is much higher than in other states, but is a technicality. State law categorizes illegal sales of two ounces up to five pounds as the same offense, so it was impractical to distinguish the amount sold from the offense for which the person was convicted. The expanise expungment provision drew the support of social justice advocates.
“No state has leaned into social justice through marijuana legalization as wholeheartedly as New Jersey,” Amol Sinha, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times.
According to various reports, the bill might be brought back for a vote as soon as next month or not until after New Jersey's legislative elections in November (New Jersey is one of a handful of states that holds statewide races in odd-numbered years). Other reports said the Legislature might cease efforts to pass a bill and instead submit the matter to voters for a referendum. Opinion polls show a large marjority of New Jersey voters favor legalizing marijuana.