New Jersey Governor Issues Ultimatum Over Recreational Pot

By Kelly Burch 04/12/19

Governor Phil Murphy is giving lawmakers until May to approve recreational marijuana...or else.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
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After a failed effort to get recreational marijuana passed during his first 100 days in office, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told lawmakers this week that they have until May to approve recreational marijuana, or he will expand the state’s medical marijuana program by executive order. 

"We’re not going to wait around a lot. I’m prepared to hold off for a short amount of time, but we’re holding back enormous demand for more access" Murphy said, according to the Asbury Park Press. "I’m still confident we can get it done legislatively and I’m prepared and certainly open-minded and quite supportive for the Legislature to go back at it and find those last couple of votes we didn’t quite get. But that can’t be an unending calendar.”

Murphy, a Democrat, has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform in the state. However, in March a vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey was cancelled because lawmakers could not gather enough votes to ensure that the measure would pass. 

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

Now, votes on marijuana legalization are scheduled for the end of May in the state Senate and Assembly. 

“I think it’s possible we can get this done in May,” state Sen. Nick Scutari, a Democrat in favor of legalization said. “But we can’t pass it unless we have the votes.”

Bill Caruso, who is a leader in calling for marijuana reform in the state and a board member for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said that postponing the vote was a smart choice. 

He said, ”If they had another day, they would have been there. That's how close it was. But I think a wise decision was made to hold off. There was such a short time between some very good and very substantive changes to this bill that confused a lot of folks. So they made a wise decision to stop trying to push it through."

Caruso said that it’s important that marijuana is legalized through a legislative vote, because that will ensure that the bill’s social justice components are passed. A public referendum would simply allow voters to select yes or no, essentially starting over on the legislative process of drafting the law.  

He said, ”When you vote on this legislatively, you get to telegraph everything you're going to do in the bill. If the Legislature is just given a blank check by the voters, people would be motivated for different reasons. We have the luxury of making this very difficult decision and looking at it in a global way. There is a need to get this right."

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