After hours of delays for last minute amendments which caused the suspension of testimony and debate a legislation that legalizes and establishes a regulatory structure of recreation marijuana passed the Assembly Appropriates Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday night, according to reports on Politico, InsiderNJ and NJGlobe.
Legislation to expunge marijuana convictions, including felony convictions for selling over 5 lbs of pot, passed the committees. The felony expungement provisions prompted a strong reaction from Republican Senators Kip Bateman (Somerset), Michael Doherty (Warren) and Gerald Cardinale (Bergen). Bateman said the bill contained “evil.” Doherty said that the bill is a “deal with the devil.” Cardinale suggested calling the bill, “the Drug Pusher’s Friend Act.”
The bill package passed along partisan lines, with Democrats supporting Governor Phil Murphy’s agenda and Republicans opposing. But a few Democrats who voted to pass the bills through committee said they were not committed to vote affirmatively on the final floor votes which Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin are pushing to get passed next Monday, March 25.
Senator Vin Gopal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted yes on the bills.
Senator Declan O’Scanlon is not a member of the Judiciary Committee and thus did not vote yesterday. He has, however,emerged as a key figure in the debate as there are insuffficient Democrat votes to pass the bills in the Senate. At this point, O’Scanlon is one of only two Republican senators, the other being Chris Brown of Atlantic County, who have not ruled out supporting the legislation.
O’Scanlon is opposed to the bills as currently written. “If we’re going to do this we should do it right,” O’Scanlon said. “And the revenue generated must contribute to structual fiscal reform.” O’Scanlon is demanding that the roughly $110 million that Trenton is gloming every year in 9-1-1 fees from cell phone bills, and the $300-$400 million annual energy receipt tax be returned to counties and municipalities for property tax relief as originally intended. O’Scanlon also requires that the concerns of law enforcement and municipalities be adequately addressed in the legislation before he would consider supporting it.