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Murphy: March's cancelled cannabis vote not 'politically' damaging.

Byline: Daniel J. Munoz

Gov. Phil Murphy denied the notion that he took a political hit because of the failure of the state Legislature to pass a marijuana-legalization bill.

"I felt no political damage because we gave it everything we had, and I think people realize that, and I think people also realize that history doesn't get made overnight," Murphy said Wednesday afternoon on a Facebook livestream with the radio station 1010 Wins.

Murphy along with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, tried last month to push through a bill that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older.

The product would have been taxed at $42 an ounce and regulated by a powerful, five-person Cannabis Regulatory Commission. But the votes were cancelled on March 25 after the Senate could not get the 21 votes needed to pass.

Although the Assembly had all 41 votes, Coughlin said he would not move forward on the bill without the Senate. The measure has been heavily backed by the three lawmakers, all Democrats, and Murphy said he spent the week prior making calls trying to get legislators on board.

The governor had initially promised to legalize adult-use cannabis within his first 100 days of office.

Sweeney said many lawmakers were spooked by the last minute change allowing for expungement of possession of up to five ounces of marijuana. Critics of that component of the legislation argue that such a quantity is large enough that only a dealer would have that amount of cannabis and not a run-of-the-mill, casual user.

The legalization measure was part of a trio of bills. One bill would expand the state's medical marijuana program while another would set up an expungement process for those with low-level marijuana offenses on their criminal record.

Murphy put a moratorium to drastically expand the state's medicinal marijuana program to serve as much as 200,000 patients by January 2022, up from the current enrollment of roughly 42,000 patients.

If lawmakers do not come up with the votes in May, then Murphy said he will move forward with the plan because his administration has the authority to do so without requiring legislative approval.

Sweeney has not been on board with the expansion, saying it is a "back-door" to legalization, which might prompt lawmakers already on the fence about the measure to not support the bill.

"The governor, the speaker and I should stick to our agreement to work for legislative approval of the three bills," Sweeney said Monday in a statement.

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Author:Munoz, Daniel J.
Publication:NJ Biz
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Apr 3, 2019
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