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After rebuke, top Democrats don't give up on marijuana legalization




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                 Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin said they'd try to advance another version of the legalization bill this year. | Mel Evans / AP Photo </p>
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<p> TRENTON – In the face of a major legislative defeat, New Jersey's top three elected officials displayed a surprising show of unity Monday after the collapse of a planned vote on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, declaring "we're absolutely going to win the war at the end of the day. ”</p>
<p> During a late afternoon press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin pledged to take another pass at a package of bills that would not only legalize recreational cannabis, but also the state's medical marijuana program and overhaul New Jersey's criminal justice system </p><div><script async src=

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"We are going to sit down and get to work on the next steps," Coughlin (D-Middl esex) said during the press conference in the governor's office. "We didn't get a touchdown, but we moved the ball to the one yard line."

Sweeney (D-Gloucester) decided to pull the legalization bill, NJ 2703 (18R), early Monday after it became clear that Not enough Senate Democrats supported it. Coughlin, through a spokesperson, said the speaker had enough votes to assure passage in the Assembly.

In many respects, Sweeney's decision to pull the bill reflected Murphy's inability to law lawmakers on one of the governor's biggest policy priorities. The lobbying of the administration – which included cameos from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) And the comedian Whoopi Goldberg – North Jersey lawmakers viewed as Murphy allies, including forms Gov. Richard Codey and Sen. Nia Gill (both D-Essex) stayed up to the bill until the end.

Sweeney refused to cast blame on Murphy and acknowledged his own failure to persuade several members of his caucus, including those within South Jersey's powerful Democratic delegation who have often voted in a lockstep with the Senate president.

Early Monday, the whip count for the recreational use bill was on life support.

South Jersey Democrats the administration believed to be gettable, including Sens. James Beach (D-Camden), Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington) and Bob Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), were still to the bill, according to legislative source. Late. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) was a hard "no," while Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) was believed to be a soft 'yes.'

Ultimately, multiple sources said, Murphy and Sweeney were between two and five votes short of securing the 21st needed for passage in the upper house , even with some Republicans – most notably Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) – a willingness to support the bill if the Democrats yielded to certain demands.

"We might have lost the fight, but we're absolutely going to win the end of the day," Sweeney said at the press conference, adding that the Senate has typically moved slower than the Assembly on socially progressive Issues like the aid-in-dying bill, which passed the Senate for the first time on Monday, and marriage equality.

“My house came up short. It's not the first time, but we're going to get it done, ”Sweeney said.

Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin said they'd try to advance another version of the legalization bill this year, perhaps as soon as later this spring or over the summer. Previously said he'd try to delay another one until at least the fall if the bills didn't pass on Monday.

"We have some sense of what are sticking in their throats," said Murphy, describing his conversations with lawmakers who still opposed the bill. He, along with Sweeney and Coughlin, declined to say what changes would need to be made to secure the necessary support.

"We need to do a post-mortem," Murphy said.

"Post-up," Sweeney said, correcting the governor.

The legalization bill would have allowed individuals to have an ounce of marijuana for personal use. It would have created a powerful new regulatory body for tax and regulate the industry, as well as issue new permits for new cultivators, processors, wholesalers and dispensaries.

Opposition to the bill came from a number of fronts. Late. Ron Rice (D-Essex), on the grounds of legalization, was unleashed by a community of inner city, predominantly minority communities. Madden, a former State Police superintendent, left over to public safety and law enforcement, two legislative sources.

More conservative members of the Democratic caucus, as well as some Republican lawmakers, were also skeptical of a late amendment that would have made anyone who had previously been convicted of distribution between one ounce and five pounds of cannabis eligible for expungement.

That amendment, along with another commission that would have established new processes by which those incarcerated or on parole could vacate their sentences, was instrumental in locking up the support or progressive advocacy groups like the ACLU.

"When you talk about relieving 200,000 people, it's not easy. It's not an easy lift, "Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union), who championed the expungement provisions with fellow Union County Democrat Annette Quijano, said at a separate press conference on Monday. “While we missed the market today, I'm proud of the momentum we have moving forward.”

It's possible to decide on legalization to two other measures, a medical marijuana expansion bill, NJ S10 (18R), and a separate expungement bill, NJ A4998 (18R), may have the Democrats some support as well.

Requiring lawmakers to vote on the bills as a package, "doing the potential for achieving significant marijuana reform from the start," Sen. Christopher "Chicken" Bateman (R-Somerset) said in a statement. Bateman was believed to be on the verge of supporting the legalization bill.

At the press conference, Murphy said the administration is exploring ways to further expand the medical cannabis program without an act of Legislature but that, along with Sweeney and Coughlin, are confident they can advance new versions of all three bills at a later date.

"I think the three of us think we can get it done legislatively," Murphy said, later adding Monday's outcome "was disappointing. I don't think it was shocking. ”


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