The governor of New Jersey is continuing his campaign to promote a marijuana legalization referendum that is on the state’s November ballot, and he stressed on Thursday that the state “can’t fail” at enacting the policy change this round after the legislature failed to get it done this past session.
The comments came at a virtual fundraiser during which a key state lawmaker also said legislative leaders well on their way to finalizing a companion bill to enact detailed cannabis regulations—potentially as soon as the first week of November—if voters approve the ballot question.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) made the case during the fundraising event for the pro-legalization coalition NJ CAN 2020 that criminalization has been enforced in a racially disparate manner, and regulating sales could provide revenue for programs such as housing, childcare and education.
“There’s no denying this is the right thing to do,” the governor said.
He and lawmakers “wanted to do it legislatively,” he said. “We came close—not quite. Now it’s on the ballot. We can’t fail folks. We’ve got to make sure that this passes, and it will transform our state.”
“We will do this responsibly. We’ll do this the right way,” he said. “We’ll do it in a way that addresses, head-on, the social justice issues and creates the kind of opportunities that we’re now robbing from too many of our fellow residents.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D), who previously sponsored a legalization proposal in the state Senate, said at the event that he’s been working in recent weeks with the governor’s office and legislative leaders to finalize a detailed enabling bill to implement legal market regulations if voters approve the simple referendum question.
He said the measure would look similar to his prior legislation, though he wants to add a retroactive provision to end cannabis-related prosecutions for pending cases.
“This is something about social justice. This is an economic opportunity for New Jersey,” the senator said. “We can be the first state in the Northeast—absent Massachusetts, but in our economic area—to move forward and I want to be a leader in this.”
The virtual fundraiser comes days after the governor recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.
“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”
Last week, Murphy also called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
“Legalization would right those wrongs while also spurring massive economic development opportunities, job creation, and new tax revenue,” the governor wrote. “Now, we have the opportunity to get this done and finally legalize adult-use marijuana here in the Garden State, and I need your help to make it happen.”
He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith last week urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
Legislators attempted to enact the policy change during the last session, but when negotiations stalled, they opted to put the question to voters in the form of a referendum. If the measure is approved on Election Day, the legislature will then have to pass implementing legislation containing details for how the legal cannabis market will work.
Recent polling indicates that the proposal has strong support among New Jersey voters. A survey from the law firm Brach Eichler that was released last month shows that 65 percent of likely voters are in favor of the policy change. That’s consistent with the results of a poll the firm published in August, signaling that support is steady.
NJ CAN 2020, a coalition of civil rights and drug policy reform groups, launched their first video ad promoting the legalization referendum last month as well.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.