New Jersey Senate leaders seek voter approval to legalize marijuana

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Lawmakers announced Monday they will seek voter approval to legalize marijuana in New Jersey.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Nicholas Scutari, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced the introduction of legislation to seek voter approval of a constitutional amendment to legalize adult use of marijuana.

Gov. Phil Murphy is in favor of legalizing marijuana for adults and tried to pass a law this spring but did not get the votes.

Sweeney and Scutari said they are frustrated by the slow-go to reform marijuana laws so they are proposing a public referendum for voters to determine if adults should be able to buy and use marijuana for recreational purposes "in a responsible way."
The lawmakers' joint statement went on to say:

"This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax.

"We will have the Legislature vote on the plan during the current legislative session and expect the proposal to be on the ballot in 2020, when voter turnout will be maximized for the national election. We are confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters.
"We made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively, but we recognize that the votes just aren't there. We respect the positions taken by legislators on what is an issue of conscience.

"We will now move forward with a plan that helps correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color. We can make real progress towards social justice at the same time that cannabis is made safe and legal."

Murphy released the following statement Monday evening:

"My belief that our current marijuana laws have failed every test of social justice and that the right course is to legalize its use by adults has not changed. I am disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo - which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color - will continue. However, I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November. By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for."

Not everyone supports the move. Some residents in Hoboken told Eyewitness News they would not support the legislation because they think it is a gateway drug.

Murphy said if he has the votes later this year, he will let the legislators handle it, but if not, it will most likely go to a public referendum next November when voter turnout is expected to be high.

Democratic Speaker Craig Coughlin said through a spokesman the Assembly will also vote on the proposal.

Lawmakers will put the question on the ballot if they approve it by at least a three-fifths majority in one legislative session, or if the question is approved by less than three-fifths' majorities in two back-to-back sessions.

If the proposal to amend the state constitution is approved in 2020, New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 11 other states that have legalized recreational pot.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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