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New Jersey Governor Murphy’s Recreational Marijuana Push Collapses In Major Defeat For Legalization

 By Roger Malespin

April 3, 2109 photo/istock/wellesenterprises

 One of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s chief campaign promises that got him elected was to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Yesterday, his proposal was withdrawn from the senate floor because it failed to gather enough support for a vote, marking a major defeat for both Murphy and possibly the legalization movement as a whole.

 There are several probable reasons why this bill failed so early and most of them seem due to poor planning and execution by Murphy and the state democrats. For starters, the bill was rushed and did not give lawmakers much time to decide on key factors within. The latest version of the bill was introduced just two weeks before the vote, and one week before Governor Murphy started pushing those lawmakers who were unsure of certain provisions to vote yes. This is much less time than usually afforded to bills of this magnitude and it is unclear if this was a deliberate strategy by Murphy at this time.

Additionally, there was too much division among democrats. Several key democratic state senators voted no including Madden, Rice, and Turner, the former two being ex-cops who were never committed to the vote. Some of the democrats who went against the bill still consider marijuana a ‘gateway drug’, which is perhaps more indicative of a generational divide than anything else. Regardless, it appears Governor Murphy greatly overestimated support for the bill among his colleagues despite an overwhelming majority of New Jersey citizens supporting it.

 “Certainly, I’m disappointed, but we are not defeated,” Gov. Murphy told reporters. “Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied.”

 Perhaps the most surprising development in the late stages of the push was the opposition by several Black Lawmakers who felt the bill did not sufficiently address some problems in their communities.

Senator Ronald L. Rice, a Democrat who represents Newark and emerged as one of the main opponents of legalization. “People don’t realize, particularly people in urban communities, how it will affect their lives. In urban communities, neighborhoods will struggle against the spread of ‘marijuana bodegas’ disguised as dispensaries.”

 What’s shocking about this opposition is that New Jersey had potentially some of the more progressive provisions in a legalization bill, including expunging the records of thousands of low level marijuana offenders, which is greatly disproportionate against African-Americans and other minority communities. A similar division is currently brewing in New York, where governor Cuomo is facing some very vocal opposition to his legalization bill by Black lawmakers unless certain community issues are addressed.

 In any event, the coming days should shed more light on the details of the bill’s collapse. Governor Murphy, only little more than a year into his term, will no doubt have to mend fences with voters over the first major defeat of his governorship. It could also serve as a lesson for Murphy to take more time to coordinate with his fellow party members, especially representatives of minority communities to understand their concerns.

 For now, we don’t know if this is the end of a legalization push in New Jersey. The Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney, said he “might have underestimated the challenge in getting this passed,” though, he too, vowed that he would not abandon the campaign. So the push for legalization in New Jersey may not be dead, but it will be a while before we see another push for it.