New Jersey marijuana bill, Here’s what went wrong

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New Jersey marijuana bill, Here’s what went wrong.

New Jersey’s governor supports legalizing weed. The state’s legislative leaders support legalizing weed. And 60 percent of the Garden State’s residents support legalizing weed.

But state leaders failed Monday to turn that support into action, calling off a historic vote in the state Legislature on a bill that would have legalized pot for adults 21 and older.

It came down to the absolute last minute, with Gov. Phil Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature continuing to scramble to gather votes for the measure — a signature part of Murphy’s platform. That was after the leaders worked hard behind the scenes for days trying to sing support.

But by early Monday afternoon, it was clear they would not be able to muster enough votes in the state Senate.

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So Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, canceled the vote, further delaying the possibility of legal weed in the state.

With so much support, how does this happen? Here are several reasons why.

Not a lot of time to swing votes

Less than two weeks separated the release of the latest legalization bill and Monday’s planned vote. It was only a week ago that the bill advanced out of legislative committees and when Murphy really started burning up the phone lines.

As it turned out, not enough lawmakers — from either major political party — were sold on legalization, and there just wasn’t enough time to change their minds.

Some sources told NJ Advance Media on Monday said the Senate was just a single vote away from the 21 votes needed to pass the bill. But legislative sources said that count was too optimistic.

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“We were really close today,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. “I think where some people had concerns dealt with the process. Some people felt it was rushed.”

Too many staunch ‘no’ votes from Democrats

From nearly the first day of Murphy’s push for legalization, several Democratic senators said they would be voting “no” on legal weed. Those include Richard Codey, D-Essex; Fred Madden, D-Gloucester; Ronald Rice, D-Essex; and Shirley Turner, D-Mercer. Others came out against legalization more recently, like Dawn Marie Addiego, D-Burlington, and James Beach, D-Camden.

For some critics, there’s a generational divide. Some consider marijuana a “gateway drug.” Some are concerned about public safety — after all, Madden and Rice are former cops. Some are worried about the negative impact on communities of color.

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Without those votes, the path to the 21 votes needed in the Senate became treacherous.

Murphy and Sweeney either needed to swing some of those votes or get some Republicans on board, and they couldn’t get enough of either.

Both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — need to pass the measure for Murphy to sign it into law.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, told NJ Advance Media the bill would have passed his chamber had they put it up for a vote.

But sources said the Assembly had no plans to do that if the Senate didn’t have enough support — especially because all 80 seats in the lower chamber are up for grabs in November’s election.

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