Vote to legalize recreational marijuana postponed by NJ lawmakers

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey's bill to legalize recreational marijuana has gone up in smoke.

New Jersey's Senate president says there are not enough votes to pass a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. The vote in that chamber has been postposed.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said Monday that he remains committed to passing the law and will continue to work to do just that.

Leaders and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy back the measure, but some lawmakers were hesitant.

A vote was also scheduled in the state Assembly Monday, and it was not clear how that was affected.

If the bill passes, New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 10 other states.

The bill calls for a tax of $42 per ounce, sets up a five-member regulator commission and would offer expedited expungements to people with marijuana-related offenses.

New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 10 other states if the measure eventually succeeds. New Jersey would be just the second state, after Vermont, to legalize recreational weed through its Legislature rather than by voter-approved referendum.

The 176-page bill calls for a tax of $42 per ounce, setting up a five-member regulator commission and expediting expungements to people with marijuana-related offenses.

The measure lets towns that host retailers, growers, wholesalers and processors levy taxes as well, up to 3 percent in some cases.

The expungement provisions, which Murphy says will set New Jersey apart from any other state with legal weed, waive any fee for expungement processing and permit clearing of records for possession up to 5 pounds.

Lawmakers said during hearings that while it sounds like a lot, it's necessary to allow for an expedited expungement process. They say the statute covering possession for small amounts of cannabis goes up to 5 pounds.

That unsettled some lawmakers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty. The change appeared to permit felons, and not just low-level offenders, to qualify for expungement, he said.

The bill also says tax revenue would go into a fund for "development, regulations, and enforcement of cannabis activities," including paying for expungement costs, with the balance going to the general fund.

The measure considers lawmaker concerns about women-and minority-owned businesses becoming part of the legal pot market and requires 30 percent of licenses go to them.

It also calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.

PIX11 contributed to this report.

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