A deal on cannabis reform has finally been reached by Governor Phil Murphy and the Statehouse leaders in Trenton since the previous agreement fell apart on January 8th.
The Statehouse is finally feeling urgency as Murphy has limited options as the referendum enabling and decriminalization bills will become law on Monday, February 8th, 45 days or so after the bill passed if nothing else is done.
The bill is A. 5342, “Revises consequences for underage possession or consumption of various forms of cannabis included in legislation passed by both Houses of Legislature.” Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic) is the sponsor of the bill. He has been a consistent sponsor of cannabis reform.
In typical Trenton fashion, the bill is being rushed and will have a hearing in the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee at 2:30 pm today. Also, in Trenton fashion, the details have not been announced, and the actual language is not yet available for A. 5342. This committee did not have jurisdiction over the other bills, so it’s unclear why the hearing will be held there.
A deal must be made because Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has dug in and refused to accept the work that would have to be done in the event of a conditional veto.
“My caucus was very clear in their displeasure of saying there were drafting errors and mistakes. There weren’t. It was well thought out,” Sweeney said. “We don’t want to legalize marijuana for kids either.”
The long delay after multiple hearings and setbacks before the enabling and decriminalization bill bills passed December 17th has been especially frustrating and disillusioning to cannabis advocates.
The discrepancy is over what should be done with those under 21 caught with possession of cannabis. A slap on the wrist to some is the start of a life of crime and second-class status as a felon.
People have been optimistic a deal will be reached.
Playing Politics with Cannabis in Trenton
It’s also unknown how the legislators reluctant to support the first clean-up bill will react to this one, with the details unknown. A seasoned Governor should be able to whip votes for this.
Before Murphy took office, there was a lot of talk about his lack of experience. After making millions at Goldman Sachs, he put a pot of money on many tables and buy influence at the NAACP first. He was then Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and the Ambassador to Germany, both positions that you need several million to hold most likely.
After being Ambassador, he hired the top consultants in New Jersey and made his way to becoming Governor without holding elected office before. That meant he did not come with experience whipping votes for bills. Nonetheless, he did have a good deal of experience.
Positioning himself as a progressive, he made many donations and built relationships with the North and Central Jersey Democratic bosses, progressive advocates, and union leaders. A revelation about one rival led to him cruising to the Democratic nomination over his other opponents.
That did not put him on good terms with Sweeney, who rose to his position through the traditional route of local politics to become the second leader of the moderate South Jersey Democrats after Boss George Norcross III. Sweeney wanted to be Governor before the North and Central Jersey bosses coalesced around Murphy. He then did nothing to stop the challenge to Sweeny for his seat from a pro-Trump Republican funded by his enemy and Murphys ally the NJ Educational Association (NJEA).
Thus, half the problems with passing cannabis reform since 2018 have been more reflective of Murphy and Sweeney’s friction on other issues. However, they have made deals on the big issues of a millionaire’s tax, corporate tax incentives, and the NJEA’s benefit plans.