NJ Politics Digest: State Senate President Says Voters Will Decide Legal Weed in 2020

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

State Senate President Steve Sweeney through in the towel Wednesday on the efforts to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Sweeney said voters will get to decide the question since he and Gov. Phil Murphy couldn’t muster enough votes among lawmakers to pass the plan, according to a report by Politico.

But voters won’t get to have their say until November 2020, since Sweeney isn’t confident the measure would pass during the upcoming 2019 election. This November, the entire state assembly is up for election, and Sweeney does not want legalization opponents to be able to use it as a campaign issue in an election that is unlikely to see high turnout by young voters who largely favor legalization. Sweeney instead wants the referendum to be held during a presidential election, when larger numbers of young people are likely to vote.

Sweeney’s decision to turn the question over to voters is a big defeat for Gov. Phil Murphy, who made legalizing marijuana a top policy of his administration. While Murphy and Sweeney, both Democrats, have been at loggerheads since Murphy took office, legalizing pot is one issue they both supported and originally worked together on.

Some legislators have grumbled that Murphy made it difficult to twist arms for approval of recreational marijuana use when he said he would expand medical use if the legalization efforts stalled, thereby removing a selling point that proponents could use on legislators who opposed legalizing recreational use but approved medical use.

Quote of the Day: “This is a magical time of year when deals get cut and things start to happen. If we have to get a budget done and a grand bargain is made, cannabis can be a part of that,” — Bill Caruso, co-founder of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, on the chances of legal recreational marijuana’s approval this year.

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