After rebuke, top Democrats vow not to give up on marijuana legalization

After rebuke, top Democrats vow not to give up on marijuana legalization

TRENTON — In the face of a major legislative defeat, New Jersey’s top three elected officials displayed a surprising show of unity Monday after the collapse of a planned vote on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, declaring “we’re absolutely going to win the war at the end of the day.”

During a late afternoon press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin pledged to take another pass at advancing a package of bills that would not only legalize recreational cannabis, but also expand the state’s medical marijuana program and overhaul New Jersey’s criminal justice system.

“We’re going to sit down and get to work on figuring out the next steps,” Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said during the press conference in the governor’s office. “We didn’t get a touchdown, but we moved the ball to the one yard line.”

Sweeney (D-Gloucester) decided to pull the legalization bill, NJ 2703 (18R), early Monday after it became clear that not enough Senate Democrats supported it. Coughlin, through a spokesperson, said the speaker had enough votes to assure passage in the Assembly.

In many respects, Sweeney’s decision to pull the bill reflected Murphy’s inability to sway lawmakers on one of the governor’s biggest policy priorities. Despite an intense lobbying effort from the administration — which included cameos from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and the comedian Whoopi Goldberg — North Jersey lawmakers viewed as Murphy allies, including former Gov. Richard Codey and Sen. Nia Gill (both D-Essex) remained opposed to the bill until the end.

Sweeney refused to cast blame on Murphy and acknowledged his own failure to persuade several members of his caucus, including some within South Jersey’s powerful Democratic delegation who have often voted in lockstep with the Senate president.

Early Monday, the whip count for the recreational use bill was on life support.

South Jersey Democrats the administration believed to be gettable, including Sens. James Beach (D-Camden), Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington) and Bob Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), were still opposed to the bill, according to a legislative source. Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) was a hard ‘no,’ while Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) was believed to be a soft ‘yes.’

Ultimately, multiple sources said, Murphy and Sweeney were between two and five votes short of securing the 21 votes needed for passage in the upper house, even with some Republicans — most notably Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) — signaling a willingness to support the bill if the Democrats yielded to certain demands. Read more

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