New Jersey may become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana legislatively and without a ballot measure. Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy pledged during his campaign to legalize cannabis in the Garden State within 100 days of taking office.
On Nov. 7, Murphy defeated GOP candidate Kim Guadagno in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Murphy garnered nearly 56 percent of the vote while Guadagno drew 42 percent, The New York Times reports.
Murphy had pledged to swiftly sign marijuana legalization into law once he assumed office in January 2018. The Democratic candidate had pitched legalization as a financial and civil rights issue.
"If it doesn't pass the social justice test, you can't talk about revenue implications, and the fact of the matter is that we have the widest white-nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated in New Jersey," Murphy said during a debate on Oct. 18, according to WCBS.
The Democratic-majority New Jersey Legislature had drafted several cannabis bills in the past, but GOP Gov. Chris Christie had repeatedly vowed to veto any bill that would legalize marijuana. The New Jersey Senate president, Democratic state Sen. Stephen Sweeney, had vowed that his caucus would move on marijuana legalization within 100 days if a Democrat became governor in 2018, according to NJ.com.
Eight states have already legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures. If Murphy signed a legalization bill into law, it would represent the first time that a state legalized marijuana through legislation.
Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari of New Jersey has already introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana sales but would not allow people to grow cannabis plants in their homes. GOP state Rep. Michael Patrick Carroll of New Jersey has introduced legislation with even more relaxed rules about marijuana cultivation and sales. Scutari's bill is considered the more likely to pass.
"This is something Murphy supports and I support it and I don't think anyone is going to go out of their way to embarrass the governor," Sweeney told the Washington Examiner. "It's a priority and it's something we're going to need to do."
Sweeney added that he was confident Murphy would have a marijuana bill on his desk before April 2018.
Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who opposes cannabis legalization, said that his group had already been pressing New Jersey lawmakers to reject Scutari's bill.
"We have been organizing for more than a year," Sabet said. "Soon, we will announce a new coalition of Republicans and Democrats opposing legalization. We intend to make this a major issue."
Carroll voiced skepticism that New Jersey Democrats would go against Murphy's campaign promise to enact marijuana legalization.
"My guess is any Democrat who stands to thwart Murphy in his first 100 days will have a very short career," Carroll said. "They are serious about that: if you shaft the organization, that's a very bad career move on the other side of the aisle."
On Sept. 16, a Quinnipiac University survey found that 59 percent of New Jersey voters supported legalizing recreational marijuana in their state, even though 55 percent of respondents said that they were not interested in partaking in cannabis even if it became legalized, PhillyVoice reports.