NJ Politics Digest: Weed Bill Moves Forward

A Senate Committee refused to take public comment on a package of marijuana legalization bills before voting on them, despite a room packed with people who waited more than six hours to have their say.

Newark's Mayor Ras Baraka.
Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka. Max Pizarro for Observer

It’s one of the most contentious issues the New Jersey legislature has taken up in recent years.

On Monday, a Senate Committee refused to take public comment on a package of marijuana legalization bills before voting on them, despite a room packed with people who waited more than six hours to have their say, according to NJ101.5. The Assembly Appropriations Committee limited members of the public to three minutes of comment apiece, and then only on amendments to the bill. The catch was that the public had never seen the amendments, and only been briefly told what they contain, according to the report. Nonetheless, the Assembly committee also voted to move the bill forward for a full legislative vote.

“It’s no way to run government,” Republican Sen. Kip Bateman said, before abstaining from voting, according to the report.

Even without allowing meaningful public comment on the plan, Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Gov. Phil Murphy are having difficulty rounding up enough members of their own party to support their legalization efforts, the New Jersey Globe reports. The measure will require 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly to pass.

Reports indicate Gov. Phil Murphy is on the phone and actively twisting arms to find support, but, as the Globe points out, it will be a near thing. Many of the senators who are holding out have already voiced the strong opposition to the plan and are unlikely to respond to Murphy’s efforts. This includes Sen. Ronald Rice, a longtime legalization foe who has nonetheless said he’d support putting the proposal to a public referendum. Sweeney and Coughlin have also shot down that attempt at getting public input.

Quote of the Day: “We came to testify on a bill, and now we’re asked to testify on amendments we haven’t seen, we haven’t read. How can I testify about amendments I haven’t seen?”  — Gregory Quinlan, founder and president of the Center for Garden State Families, on the state legislature limiting public comment on the plan to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

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NJ Politics Digest: Weed Bill Moves Forward