NJ Statehouse lame-duck decriminalization ballot referendum, criminal justice reform cannabis ballot question NJ cannabis New Jersey cannabis law
The Statehouse and the State are crumbling without cannabis.

It was a sad day in Trenton yet again for NJ cannabis reform advocates with legalization failing in the legislature. Instead there will be a cannabis ballot question next Novemeber on Eleciton Day.

It was announced yesterday by State President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senator Nick Scutari (D-Union), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, that the adult-use cannabis legalization bill was dead, despite speaking at a press conference yesterday supportive of a new push. And since they could not get the votes for it instead, they would push for a referendum, setting back reform and its implementation back by at least a year, if not two.

Despite all the enthusiasm for the new lame-duck session push for reform for social justice, the effort lasted little time.

The funny thing is that they claim to have the votes necessary for the legislature to put the question on the 2020 cannabis ballot question as a referendum. But somehow, getting the votes to pass a regular bill were not there.

NJ Cannabis Ballot Referendum Imposed

“I’ll certainly support it and urge others to support it,” said Ken Wolski, Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey (CMMNJ). “But it just kicks the can down the road another year. It’s disappointing for me and for the marijuana reforms advocates of New Jersey.”

But Wolski was realistic about the difficulty of passing reform saying, “There was never tremendous support for it. I was surprised they were going to take it up in lame duck.”

CMMNJ along with Garden State NORML, the New Jersey Cannabis Business Association, and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation recently made a video to promote reform during the lame-duck session. He lamented that the effort to push cannabis reform in the lame-duck was so brief, he was not able to send it to the legislators. However, he was stoic about the effort saying, “We’re no strangers to being disappointed. Some of us have been at this for a very long time.”

“The whole point is disappointing to me. I had hoped to get it through lame duck,” Wolski said.

Trenton Politicis Problems

“I always have doubts with politicians,” Assemblyman Jamal Holley said yesterday when asked about his optimism. Turns out, the line was more than just a throwaway joke.

And while the prospects were never that great for reform during the lame-duck session, Wolski himself was “guardedly optimistic”.

“It’s frustrating to come so close to come to just two or three that it keeps from happening for the entire state of New Jersey.”

There’s been a great deal of speculation that the tensions over corporate tax reform, among other things, between the exceedingly moderate State Senate President, a union worker, and the more progressive Governor Phil Murphy, a wealthy banker, have impeded cannabis reform. These tensions erupted into full view yesterday when Sue Altman, the Executive Director of NJ Working Families, a staunch ally of the Governor, was forcibly dragged from the committee room while George Norcross, the undisputed Boss of South Jersey, grinned as he watched.

The cynics say the South Jersey Democrats did not want to give Murphy who campaigned for the Governorship on legalization, a “win”.

And being cynical in New Jersey counts for a great deal.

Plan B For NJ Cannabis Reform

At least it’s believed that NJ cannabis reform would pass on the ballot by a great margin, especially in a presidential election year.

While ballot referendums are not common in New Jersey compared to California where the process is easier for people to take advantage of to push a cause, positive referendums have passed. For example, in 2013, despite Chris Christie winning election as Governor, a referendum to slightly raise the minimum wage passed.

However, the ballot questions in New Jersey are usually about like bonds, poorly worded, and little effort is done to publicize them one way or another. The cannabis ballot question will be different.

That certainly won’t be the case with cannabis.

While full legalization is off the table, there are other things that can be done to enact some measure of reform. A lobbyist suggested yesterday that cities can decriminalize. This has been going well in Philadelphia under the District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Governor Phil Murphy could also take it off the state’s schedule of drugs. The Attorney General’s office began investigations into the issue in the past.

However, not all are glum at the prospect of its failure.

Effective Cannabis Industry Opposition

Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex) has been campaigning adamantly against full legalization and brought Senators Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Dick Codey (D-Essex) along with him on that bandwagon. Rice, a former cop, used many of the antiquated arguments that led to the high arrest records to criticize full legalization.

A big talking point of NORML is that “Al Capone would have loved decriminalization.” Because when you decriminalize, you let the underground market operate with much less interference without creating a new industry that generates white-collar jobs and tax revenue.

In addition, Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion is quite happy about the cannabis ballot question.

A Trenton-based businessman and radical civic leader, Forchion believes the bill would have done nothing to help those who have operated for years in this market and now are being shoved away in favor of multi-million dollar operations, some with few ties to the state and even fewer a part of the same legacy as Forchion.

Most of the leaders in the cannabis industry are white men so those who are unhappy at the basic injustices in the current economic system frequently point these facts about the industry out in an attempt to have them be addressed.

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Dan Ulloa
Dan Ulloa is the Editor and Publisher of Heady NJ, with a background in politics, journalism, and a passion for the cannabis community. He curates and publishes news, events, and insights on the industry. Dan has been a leading voice in the New Jersey cannabis scene, educating and informing the public about this rapidly evolving industry. He ranked #35 on the INSIDER NJ Cannabis Power List out of 100 in 2022.