Legal marijuana one step closer to becoming law

This is as close as the state has been to legal marijuana despite years of debate about it. Gov. Phil Murphy made it a campaign promise and put funds from taxing the industry into both of his budgets. Monday, two committees, the Assembly Appropriations and the Senate Judiciary, were scheduled to take up the bill as a final step before a full vote next week.

But this is, as the governor himself might say, no slam dunk. Even as the Governor’s Office joins the fray by finally reaching out to lawmakers on the fence, the “no’s” from the governor’s own party remain unmoved.

“This was never going to be a unanimous vote, so the question is where it lands. Will there be better than 41? Maybe. It takes 41 to get out, but it was never going to be unanimous. It’s that kind of issue,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“Remember, since the bill was already heard in committee, this committee will hear only the amendments that have been added to the bill, so I think that there’s some things in there that could potentially sway some members, but I don’t know. I think we have to wait and see,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

“I know the people have worked hard trying to get the legislation and approve it and they’ve been doing great things trying to amend the bill, but at this point I’m still opposed to the bill,” said Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker.

Put Sens. Ron Rice, Dick Codey, Nicholas Sacco and Paul Sarlo into that camp as well. The pressure is on as lobbyists and advocates for both sides prepare to make their cases in these final days before a full vote, overwhelming legislative staff scrambling to keep the speaker’s lists in order.

“The have the eyes of the country on them right now because New Jersey can be either the example of what not to do,” said Leo Bridgewater, co-founder of CannaGather NJ.

“We might need some Republicans, we’ll see how that goes. It’s going to be a constant discussion but until we get to the final vote we don’t know where everybody’s going to be,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.

“There is a way to get my vote but it is through a fierce good government mandate as part of this bill. Folks that don’t want to give me that, that tells you something about their motivation,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee reconvened Monday evening to hear public testimony and ultimately passed the bill. Later in the evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened and advanced the bill as well. A full vote on the measure is anticipated Monday.