Cannabis bill: last minute amendments and the need for Murphy to go low

After a year of negotiating, Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin finally have a marijuana legalization package they agree on. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to start the cannabis hearings at 2:00 PM with a possible full legislature vote on March 25. However, we still don’t know exactly what will be in the final package. Also it appears there may not yet be enough Senators who support the plan unless Gov. Murphy becomes more proactive.

The Troika

The Senate committee is expected to vote on the matter today. However, the bills as they appear on the legislative web site were written in November and include later amendments. There have been even more recent changes. For example, there is now a proposal for a $42.00 tax per ounce of marijuana cultivated.

The proposed changes are undoubtedly floating around among legislators but will only appear on the legislature’s website after they are incorporated into a bill. If you are lucky enough to attend today’s hearing you may get a hand-out copy of these changes. All too frequently last minute amendments are made in bills which deprive the public of input. Even legislators may have little time to catch up with the alterations. The hearing will be broadcast live here, and are scheduled to start at 2:00PM.

It’s unclear whether there are sufficient votes in the Senate to pass the bill. For example, Democratic Sen. Ron Rice has a litany of reasons why marijuana legalization makes no sense. 

Sen. Sweeney has urged Governor Murphy to roundup recalcitrant legislators. Murphy says, “I’m not a big believer in transactional politics. I believe my role will be to say, ‘Listen, from my perspective as the chief executive of the state, let me tell you why I think this is an imperative.’” 

BALONEY. New Jersey is well known for transactional politics. Ask former governor Christie and other predecessors who used their power to deliver perks for votes. As Tom Moran says, “Honest Abe [Lincoln] went low. He assembled a team of cutthroats and told them to do what it takes, to get transactional, in his name,” in order to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would ban slavery forever.

Preview photo credit: A dispensary in Secaucus, N.J., grows marijuana for medical purposes. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Comments (2)

  1. Dvd Avins

    I hope Murphy makes a few deals of the sort you mean, if necessary. But I’m glad he’s setting legislators’ expectations low. For one, it might mean he’d have to give less up. For another, it would be nice if not just in the case but in general, the habit of horse trading was reduced.

  2. Bill Orr (Post author)

    Like you in general I agree with less horse trading. However, passing marijuana was one of his specific top (or maybe THE top) priority in his campaign. By hook or by crook he had to get it passed and that includes working proactively with Sweeney And Coughlin as well as with legislators who are on the fence.


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