Despite last-minute pleas from notable voices like Sen. Cory Booker and former CULTURE cover Whoopi Goldberg, the effort to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey suddenly collapsed on March 25 after supporters failed to gain enough votes. The scheduled vote in the New Jersey General Assembly was canceled after it became evident the bill did not have enough votes in the Senate to move forward.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney wasn’t happy about the outcome, but added his resolve to revisit the issue in the future. “I’m disappointed. I think we were making headway. I think we’ve learned a few lessons about the way we approached it. If it was easy, every state would have done it this way,” stated Sweeney. Despite the temporary setback, Sweeney said “the legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey one way or another.”
Senate Bill 2703 would have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and over. The state would have taxed and controlled cannabis in a similar manner to alcohol, as it is done in other states. Twenty-one votes in the Senate were needed to advance the bill and send it to the governor’s desk for approval, but it quickly became clear that supporters did not have enough votes to advance the bill.
Some senators including Sen. Michael Doherty cited the inclusion of expungement provisions in particular as the reason they planned on voting against the bill. Doherty said he didn’t want to grant any permits to former felons, even though only low level offenders would have been affected and been able to clear their records.
Vermont is the only state to legalized cannabis through Legislature instead of a voter ballot initiative, but it doesn’t have a retail cannabis market. New Jersey would have been the first state to legalize recreational cannabis with a comprehensive distribution and retail model.
If the bill had passed Legislature, Gov. Phil Murphy promised to sign it and New Jersey would be added to the list of states that have legalized cannabis.