NJ Politics Digest: Sweeney Says Not So Fast on Decriminalizing Pot

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney

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

He wanted to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use, but Senate President Steve Sweeney isn’t so keen on simply decriminalizing it.

The Record reports that Sweeney told a Gannett editorial board that he thought the decriminalization plan was “problematic” since it leaves the sale of marijuana to the black market while merely reducing the penalty. Sweeney said he’d like to have the state attorney general deal with penalties, rather than having legislation address it, according to the report.

Decriminalizing marijuana could also spell problems for Sweeney’s plan to put the legalization question to voters in a 2020 referendum. Sweeney decided to go the referendum route after the legalization effort failed to win enough support from state lawmakers. With marijuana decriminalized, legalization efforts might not receive the same level of public support as it would if there was a question about whether or not the attorney general’s guidance on penalties could be changed with a new administration.

Decriminalization means the cash-starved state also would not be able to reap the tax benefits—pegged by some at $300 million annually—that would come with legalization. Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget called for $80 million in marijuana tax revenue before legalization efforts collapsed.

With legalization stalled, the state legislature is moving ahead with efforts to expand access to medical marijuana and to provide for expungement of marijuana convictions. Some see decriminalization as essential to that effort, since decriminalizing pot offenses would also reduce the need for future expungement actions.

Quote of the Day: “I’m open to conversation, but I’m not there right now,” — Senate President Steve Sweeney, voicing his concerns about a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Pro-Murphy Group That Angered Top Democrats by Running Ads Last Year Is at It Again
Undeterred by the uproar it caused last year among top Democrats, a pro-Gov. Phil Murphy group launched a more than $1 million ad campaign to support the governor’s call for a millionaires tax in New Jersey, NJ Advance Media has learned.
NJ.com Read more

How Booker Would Bolster Women’s Health Care and the Right to Safe Abortions
Sen. Cory Booker on Wednesday unveiled a plan to create a new White House office focused on ensuring women have access to safe abortions and to end federal restrictions on funding for the medical procedure.
Politico Read more

Questions Abound Over Key Study of NJ’s Potential to Cut Energy Use
A new draft analysis of the state’s potential to reduce energy use is raising more questions than it answers, at least based on feedback from utilities, energy efficiency firms, clean-energy advocates and others.
NJSpotlight Read more

There’s More Money for Gateway Tunnel Project in New Spending Bill Despite Trump’s Objections
Rejecting President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, federal lawmakers have agreed to continue funding the Gateway project in the upcoming transportation spending bill.
NJ.com Read more

Judge: Council Should Not Have Awarded Tax Break to Hackensack University Medical Center
The City Council exceeded its legal authority when it approved a tax break for Hackensack University Medical Center that would have saved the hospital over $1 million annually, according to a scathing opion issued by a Superior Court judge .
The Record Read more

These NJ Towns Still Have Pending Lawsuits to Tax Hospitals
Though a Superior Court judge ruled Hackensack’s approved tax break for Hackensack University Medical Center should not have been awarded, other municipalities however are still trying to tax hospitals in their respective areas.
The Record Read more

Lakewood: $20M Private School Busing Authority Kept Alive Under Murphy Budget
Private school students here might have Gov. Phil Murphy to thank for their rides to class next year.
Asbury Park Press Read more

Drew University ‘Rejects’ United Methodist Church’s Gay Bans, Stands With LGTBQ Community
Drew University is reevaluating its ties to the United Methodist Church, which rejected an effort to lift the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.
Daily Record Read more

Toms River to Spend $1.1M to Transport Private School Kids
The township’s regional school district expects to pay $1.1 million to transport students to private schools, a more than six-fold increase over recent years, the Asbury Park Press reported.
NJ101.5 Read more

Camden Mayor Meets With Murphy Chief of Staff
Camden mayor Frank Moran was spotted at a Starbucks in Princeton this morning with Gov. Murphy’s chief of staff, George Helmy.
New Jersey Globe Read more

Sweeney Tax Break Committee Finalizes Membership
A legislative committee formed this month by Senate President Stephen Sweeney to examine the state’s tax incentive programs has finalized the lawmakers who will make up the committee—one of the first actions for the commission that might butt heads with a similarly oriented task force unveiled by Gov. Phil Murphy in January.
NJBiz Read more

Borgata to Open New Sports Book by End of June
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, the first casino to offer legalized sports betting in New Jersey, announced Wednesday it will be debuting a new sportsbook and lounge at the end of June.
ROI-NJ Read more

In Trenton, Tax Credits for Working Poor Are Rare Point of Political Amity
Emerging unscathed so far amid this year’s increasingly contentious budget talks is a plan to boost funding for a widely praised tax break that benefits more than half a million low-wage workers in New Jersey.
NJSpotlight Read more

Atlantic City Mayor Settles Lawsuit Filed by the Entertainment Director at Haven Nightclub
A day ahead of a scheduled civil trial, Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. and Golden Nugget’s Haven entertainment director Meredith Godfrey have apparently ironed out their differences.
Inquirer Read more

Disgraced Former Sheriff Michael Saudino Rejoins Republicans, Blasts Phil Murphy’s Agenda
Michael Saudino, the former Bergen County Sheriff, announced Wednesday he was leaving the Democratic Party due to differences with Gov. Phil Murphy over immigration policy.
The Record Read more

Bergen County Police Merger With Sheriff’s Office Likely to Cost Millions in Back Pay
Bergen County may be forced to pay millions of dollars to county police after a state arbitrator ruled in the officers’ favor following a prolonged contract dispute.
The Record Read more

NJ Politics Digest: Sweeney Says Not So Fast on Decriminalizing Pot