‘We’re at the finish line.’ Deadline for Gov. Murphy to act on marijuana bill pushed back
State lawmakers are still struggling to come to an agreement on the details of marijuana decriminalization and legalization three months after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to set up a recreational marijuana industry in New Jersey.
Lawmakers did extend the deadline for Gov. Phil Murphy to sign the legislation by 10 days to Feb. 18.
"Our goal is to have universal agreement. That's very hard to achieve. So, we're kind of backing off on having majority agreement on what it should be,” says state Sen. Nick Scutari.
One of the issues lawmakers cannot agree upon is what the penalties should be for those under 21 who are caught with marijuana.
“This governor has got to get it together. He has got to make sure that this gets done because these lives are being affected every single day,” says state Assemblyman Jamel Holley.
Holley is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus. He says that he doesn’t want penalties for those under 21 to become a new type of “stop-and-risk” that targets minority populations.
“It's an important piece of legislation. And we don't want to look back in 10 or 15 years and say, ‘What have we done?’ We're really taking our time with this to get it right and I believe we're heading in the right direction,” Holley says.
Scutari – who has advocated for marijuana for over a decade – says that within the next 10 days, a bill that cleans up the discrepancies between the decriminalization bill and the bill establishing rules for the marijuana market in New Jersey will pass.
“That's basically the clarification between the two bills, what exactly the penalties are going to be for people under age 21 when they're caught with use or possession of marijuana,” he says.
Less than a mile from the New Jersey State House is Weedman's Joint – the hangout and place of business of New Jersey's most public marijuana advocate, Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion. This past Friday, Murphy signed a bill dramatically decreasing penalties for possessing psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic compound in psychedelic mushrooms.
“I have always looked at marijuana and mushrooms as natural,” Forchion says. “I could just as easily be mushroom man. NJ Weedman, NJ Mushroom Man.”
Lawmakers say that they hope that they can reach an agreement on marijuana legalization soon.
“You know we were supposed to get this done the first 100 days after he became governor, it's just disappointing,” Holley says. “But this is part of the legislative process, we're at the finish line.”
The governor's chief counsel says that the bill decriminalizing psilocybin keeps possession a criminal offense in the state.