New York hears first plan for legal weed as N.J. keeps waiting ... and waiting
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday sounded a lot like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy last year. In his budget address, Cuomo called for legalizing and taxing weed, which he estimated would generate $300 million, while also clearing past marijuana convictions. And, like Murphy a year ago, he has called on his legislative colleagues to get it done soon.
Murphy’s calls in 2018 didn’t bear fruit as lawmakers debated legalization for much of the year without sending anything to the governor to sign. It’s now a year later and there’s no clear indication on when the New Jersey Legislature could hold a vote on legal weed.
Cuomo’s increased attention to legalization could set up New York to legalize marijuana before New Jersey, despite the Garden State having more than a year’s head start. Murphy repeated his calls for legal weed on Tuesday in his State of the State address, but lawmakers have showed little impetus to restart the debate so far this year.
As recently as a few weeks ago, marijuana advocates in New Jersey said they weren’t concerned about New York beating New Jersey to legalization. There was still too much to sort out, they said.
“The idea that they’re just going to walk into Albany and put it on legislators' desks and get it approved — that’s just not going to happen,” Bill Caruso, a marijuana lobbyist and member of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, said last month. “I think it’s going to take them some time to work through those issues.”
But with New York’s legalization plan seemingly on the fast track, other marijuana supporters in New Jersey are starting to appear increasingly worried that New Jersey has dropped the ball.
Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, seemed to hint at a concern for a lack of action on Tuesday in response to Murphy’s renewed call for legalization.
“To have a governor mention legalization in a positive light in their State of the State address shows how far we have come in New Jersey,” Rudder said in a statement. “That said, we still have to get this across the finish line. I look forward to turning his and all supportive elected officials’ statements into action.”
There is no finish line in sight. Debate ended last year because Murphy and the Legislature were at an impasse on marijuana taxes and industry regulation. The two sides were supposed to meet last week to continue the conversation, but those talks were called off.
Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who has been close to the marijuana debate in the New Jersey Legislature, said earlier this month that he has no idea when his colleagues might be able to reach a deal on legalization.
Millions of dollars could be at stake for New Jersey, should its trans-Hudson neighbor get legal weed first. For his part, Murphy has said he doesn’t care whether New York does it first.
“I wish him well,” Murphy said last month in Newark, talking about Cuomo’s push to legalize marijuana. “What New York does has no bearing on what we do in New Jersey. Our job is to do it right.”