Cannabis legalization sponsor Nick Scutari (D-Union) will be the new State Senate President after the electoral defeat of incumbent Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
It was decided last week in a series of meetings. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) will remain in his position in the new session of the legislature convening in January.
Sweeney was defeated by the unknown Republican Edward Durr, a truck driver who raised a small amount of money in his campaign but succeeded in pulling an upset.
The defeat of Steve Sweeney is monumental. He is the longest-serving Senate President in New Jersey’s history. Sweeney took office in 2010 when he defeated Dick Codey (D-Essex), who, by virtue of the office, was briefly Governor. Thus, he has long dominated the Statehouse. As the ally of South Jersey Boss George Norcross III, he exerted a lot of clout during the administration of former Governor Chris Christie and Governor Phil Murphy (D).
Despite being a Vice President of the Ironworkers union, Sweeney locked horns with progressives many times, including Governor Phil Murphy. After a series of fights, in 2017, the NJ Education Association (NJEA) spent millions on a pro-Trump Republican in their ultimately futile attempt to remove Sweeney from power. The race created a lot of animosity between Sweeney and Murphy, which made making deals on legislation more difficult.
Sweeney has yet to concede the race.
Many cannabis activists believe he opposed cannabis homegrow legalization.
Nick Scutari and Cannabis
Scutari is currently the State Senate Majority Whip and Judiciary Committee Chair.
In addition, he is a long-time sponsor of cannabis reform. Along with long-time cannabis reform champion Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, a former Assemblyman, he sponsored the original medical cannabis bill, the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA).
He was also the lead proponent in the State Senate for adult-use cannabis legalization in the bill S. 2703, which failed in spring 2019 and again in November 2019. While the bill did contain provisions establishing micro-businesses and other provisions, some cannabis activists were concerned that it would not create a path into the market for underground entrepreneurs like Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion.
After the referendum for adult-use cannabis legalization to be added to the New Jersey constitution passed, Nick Scutari subsequently introduced the bill S. 21, which established the adult-use cannabis market.
While the bill was not initially well-received, it was subsequently amended to be more equitable. For example, tax revenue from adult-use cannabis sales is supposed to go towards places that have been especially adversely affected by the War on Drugs, known as “Impact Zones.” In addition, a certain percentage of licenses have been reserved for women, minorities, disabled veterans, and Social Equity applicants.
Scutari noted several times that the bill had to be signed into law before New Year’s Day 2021 when the referendum said cannabis sales would start, or a gray market would develop, as it has.
It’s unclear how this could affect the possible passage of a cannabis homegrow bill in the lame-duck legislative session between now and January. Murphy has said he was open to the idea of cannabis homegrow as the medical cannabis bill introduced by Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) has picked up sponsors.
In March Sweeney and Scutari said homegrow was worth exploring, but they have not acted on that.