UP IN SMOKE: Legal marijuana bill canceled, didn’t have the votes
TRENTON -- There will be no vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey Monday, after legislative leaders struggled to get together enough votes to pass a bill.
And that leaves uncertain when the state Legislature will try again. Other bills announcing an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program and making expungements for past marijuana offenses easier have also been scuttled for now.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, immediately after announcing no vote would take place, expressed a "firm commitment" to legalizing marijuana.
“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy," he said.
He praised Gov. Phil Murphy for working with himself and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and pledged "this fight is not over.,"
"We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward," he said.
Sweeney has previously said if a vote didn't occur today, marijuana legislation could have to wait until next year.
The calendar has been the main reason today loomed as a key date. After today's hearings, most legislative action goes on hiatus for seven weeks while budget committees hold intensive hearings. At minimum, that makes a vote before the spring unlikely.
“While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage. The Senate was very close to 21 votes and, with more education and advocacy, I believe we will get this legislation across the finish line," Sweeney said.
Several counts put the state Senate at 2 to 3 supporters short of enough votes to pass the proposed legal marijuana bill, though there was enough support in the state Assembly to pass that chamber.
The legalization bill was one of about 60 up for a vote during the Senate session scheduled to start at noon. A related bill, S3205, would make it possible to expunge the records for possession up to 5 pounds and waive fees for processing.
"This is a huge victory for us. They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong," Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action and a former drug policy adviser to the Obama Administration, said.
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