(This story has been updated to include further comment from New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and cannabis attorney Rob DiPisa.)
New Jersey lawmakers called off their scheduled vote Monday on a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana after Gov. Phil Murphy failed to persuade enough lawmakers to support the legislation.
In the short term, New Jersey misses an opportunity to legalize an industry that was projected by Marijuana Business Daily to generate $1.2 billion-$1.5 billion in annual retail sales by 2023.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said there weren’t enough votes to pass a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
“Anyone who thinks this is dead, they’re wrong,” Sweeney said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
He said that if the process were easy, “every state would do it this way.”
But he noted that all other states have legalized by voter initiative except for Vermont, which doesn’t have a commercial program.
With New Jersey lawmakers now having to turn their attention to the state budget, it’s unclear how long the issue will be on hold.
But it could be delayed months or even until after the November election.
Sweeney said adult-use legalization will come up for a vote “as soon as I know I have 21 votes for sure.”
That’s the magic number for Senate passage.
“We expect we will get this done,” Sweeney said.
By not acting, the Garden State risks missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to New York, which is considering legalization and expects a legislative agreement by June.
New Jersey would have been the first state to legalize a full-fledged adult-use marijuana program through legislation.
Attorney Rob DiPisa, co-chair of the cannabis law group of Cole Schotz in New Jersey, wrote in an email to MJBizDaily that the “main concern right now is that the vote won’t just be postponed a month or two but postponed until after the November election and that this issue may end up being put on the ballot as a referendum (as opposed to being passed by legislation).”
Lawmakers then could lose control to activists in how an adult-use program is conceived, DiPisa indicated in a previous interview.
DiPisa has said that some of his clients have the resources to pursue only a recreational license in New Jersey or New York, but not both.
He said that some clients may shift their strategy as a result of New Jersey lawmakers calling off the vote.
“However,” DiPisa said, “I think the smart approach is to see how New York develops over the next six months” and then decide whether a New Jersey-focused applicant should shift toward New York. “It’s still premature to make that call right now as we’ll need to see how New York progresses.”
DiPisa wrote that he believes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s removal of adult-use cannabis from the proposed state budget is an indication that Cuomo really doesn’t think New York will pass adult-use legislation this year.
Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, told MJBizDaily last Friday that even if legalization didn’t pass now, the state’s medical marijuana industry will continue to grow.
New Jersey lawmakers also on Monday postponed a vote on a measure to expand the state’s medical marijuana program.
But Murphy expected that would be the case if no action was taken on adult-use, and his administration reportedly has developed a backup plan to expand medical marijuana licenses in the state.
“No matter what happens,” Rudder said, “we expect the medical marijuana industry to expand significantly moving forward.”
Jeff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Associated Press contributed to this report.