New Jersey Fails To Pass Marijuana Legalization

By Kelly Burch 03/26/19

“Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.


A planned vote to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey was cancelled Monday (March 25), when it became clear that the pro-legalization camp, led by Democratic Governor Philip Murphy, did not have enough votes to ensure that the measure passed. 

“Certainly, I’m disappointed, but we are not defeated,” Murphy told The New York Times. “Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied.”

President of the NJ Senate Stephen M. Sweeney, also a Democrat in favor of legalization, says he “might have underestimated the challenge in getting this passed.”

Marijuana reform advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that the unexpected cancelation of the vote was disappointing. 

Amol Sinha, executive director of the New Jersey ACLU said, “Legalization is an urgent civil rights issue of our era, and it’s up to advocates in the coming weeks and month to make that urgency clear.”

New Jersey’s legalization bill would have reserved 10% of marijuana licenses for small businesses, and made it possible to expunge criminal records online. As noted by the Times, the law would have erased the convictions of hundreds of thousands of minor drug offenders in a state where black residents are three times more likely as white residents to be arrested on marijuana charges. 

“We have the widest white-nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated in America and far and away the biggest contributor is low-end drug offenses,” Murphy said recently. 

Rev. Al Sharpton said that the progressive New Jersey bill was a “national model,” despite his worries about the social justice issues surrounding legalization. 

“My concern had been that legal recreational marijuana has not dealt with the damage that has been disproportionately suffered by blacks and other people of color, and is just setting up people to make a lot of money,” he said. 

This concern has been echoed by lawmakers in New York, where black lawmakers have vowed to oppose the state's legalization efforts that do not do enough to address social inequities. 

In New Jersey, some people, including Democratic lawmakers, were not convinced that the benefits of legalization were worth the risks.  

Democrat state Senator Ronald L. Rice became one of the most outspoken opponents of the bill. 

“The public has not properly been educated on the topic of recreational marijuana," he said. “People don’t realize, particularly people in urban communities, how it will affect their lives. In urban communities, neighborhoods will struggle against the spread of ‘marijuana bodegas’ disguised as dispensaries.”

New Jersey lawmakers will still be able to vote on the bill in the future. For now, the debate over recreational marijuana is likely to continue, with some leaders like Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora insisting that legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do.

“Social justice and economic development go hand in hand,” he said. “I walk in the streets and talk to many constituents that talk about a prior record and how it’s a hindrance for them to get ahead, get a job.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.