Top Democrats May Need To Twist Arms To Legalize Weed, NJ Cannabis Insider Survey Finds

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If the state Senate were to vote today on whether New Jersey should legalize marijuana for recreational use, the bill would fail, according to a survey by NJ Cannabis Insider, a new NJ Advance Media publication.

Only five members of the 40-member Senate said they would vote yes when reached by telephone, in person and by email over the past three weeks. Another 20 members said they would vote no, while 15 said they were undecided or did not respond.

The full list of how lawmakers stand can be found in the free sample issue of the Cannabis Insider.

The measure needs 21 votes to pass the Senate, then 41 votes to clear the 80-member state Assembly. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who ran on a campaign platform that promoted legalizing cannabis, has said he would sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.

But a vote is not imminent. Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the lead sponsor of the marijuana legalization and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not yet scheduled a hearing on the bill, (S830).

As of Monday, Scutari said he remains undecided whether he will make changes to the current version, which he carried over from the last legislative session that ended in mid-January.

Scutari and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, have said they remain confident they will have enough votes when the time comes. But they have backed off an early prediction that they Democrats, which control the Legislature and the executive branch, would get it done in the first 100 days of Murphy’s term.

Legislative sources who spoke to NJ Advance Media and requested anonymity to share lawmakers’ private conversations said some members do not want to reveal their thoughts before a final bill is presented or hearings are held, in order to negotiate its terms.

Meanwhile, the Murphy administration is more than halfway through a 60-day evaluation of the state’s medicinal marijuana program, which many patients say is too cumbersome, restrictive and expensive. In announcing the audit on Jan. 23, Murphy said he was considering expanding the number of dispensaries, permitting home delivery and allowing doctors to recommend patients be permitted to buy more than two ounces a month.

Legalization foes are also mobilizing. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, introduced a bill earlier this month that would decriminalize pot possession of no more than 10 grams. The bill would also expedite the expungement of past marijuana possession arrests.

Sweeney, who controls which bills are scheduled for hearings and floor votes, would have to permit the decriminalization bill to proceed. A source close to Sweeney said he was unlikely to allow Rice’s bill to compete with legalization measure.