Key New Jersey lawmaker gives up on adult-use marijuana legalization for now

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(This story has been updated with additional comments from state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.)

New Jersey legislators are abandoning their current efforts to legalize recreational cannabis, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said in a tweet Wednesday – at least temporarily dashing the hopes of MJ businesses primed to cash in on an East Coast legalization wave.

Sweeney’s comments aren’t a surprise given the difficulty that Gov. Phil Murphy, Sweeney and others experienced as they tried to round up enough votes to pass the measure.

Lawmakers canceled a vote in late March when Murphy wasn’t able to persuade enough legislators to vote for legalization.

Sweeney said he would instead look to voters to legalize adult-use marijuana in 2020.

To get on the ballot, three-fifths of lawmakers must approve the proposed referendum, or a simple majority of lawmakers must approve it in two consecutive years.

It’s unclear how the amendment would be worded and which path would be pursued.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Murphy said he had a “mixed reaction” to Sweeney’s announcement.

“It’s hard to do it legislatively, I admit,” Murphy said about adult-use legalization.

“One state in the history of our country has done it and that’s Vermont, and we’re a lot more complicated than Vermont. It’s always been a default to go to a referendum and ask the people.”

New Jersey has articulated a Plan B: Expand its fast-growing medical marijuana market.

Sweeney said the medical marijuana expansion would include increasing the number of dispensaries, which currently stands at six but is in the process of doubling, and phasing out the state’s sales tax on MMJ.

Murphy’s administration announced this week new MMJ rules aimed at increasing business opportunities, patient access and qualifying medical conditions.

The rules include separate permitting systems for dispensaries, processors and growers, which likely will open up the state’s current, more vertically integrated structure.

Recent forecasts estimated the market will need 15 additional growers and 50-90 dispensaries by 2022.

– Marijuana Business Daily and Associated Press