TRENTON _ Those looking to pair a Halloween costume party with legally lighting up a joint are going to be out of luck.
State legislative leaders on Monday brushed aside a previous plan to vote on legalizing recreational pot in New Jersey by Oct. 29.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin called marijuana legalization a “seismic” shift in public policy and not a thing that can be rushed. Complicating the issue further, Coughlin said, is that legalization would create a whole new industry in the state.
Making pot legal was a campaign promise of Gov. Phil Murphy.
However, notwithstanding his overwhelming win almost a year ago and Democratic control of the Legislature, the goal hasn’t been met.
One obvious problem seems to be that while most lawmakers are Democrats, not all Democrats are as socially liberal as the governor. Many fear a public backlash. This is a bit odd considering that most polls show broad support for legalizing marijuana, something which was just accomplished throughout Canada.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney admitted there still is work to do on marijuana legalization. But he expressed confidence that when all is said and done, there will be at least 21 supporters in the Senate and 41 in the Assembly, the minimum needed for passage
Both Democratic leaders spoke at a press conference called to drum up support for a $500 million bond issue on the November ballot to benefit vo-tech schools, community colleges, school security and water infrastructure improvement plans.
But when it was time for questions, the conference quickly drifted off to other areas.
Sweeney said he and Coughlin have spent a lot of time on a tentative marijuana bill, which he said was about 140-pages long. In press reports over last weekend, Sweeney said Murphy must get involved in the process as well. Whether he wants the governor to help with the details or to cajole reluctant lawmakers was not clear.
But like the speaker, Sweeney admitted the task is not easy.
“It’s a heavy lift,” he said.
The lawmakers also were asked about a just-formed bipartisan Select Committee to examine allegations of sexual assault against Albert Alvarez, a recently departed administration official. The charge was made by Katie Brennan, who is chef of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Coughlin said it’s unclear in his mind if the committee, which is still being formed, would have subpoena power. He said he would have to sort through the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.
While it was not a surprise that talk of sexual assault and legalized pot superseded the official focus of Monday’s event, a contingent of lawmakers and educators stressed how important the bond issue is.
Sweeney, an iron worker by trade, said “vocational schools” are not dirty or bad words.
Coughlin said there are many blue-collar jobs in the state that go unfilled.
In addition to helping expand vo-tech schools and community colleges, supporters said the bond would improve water systems to make sure students are not drinking lead-contaminated water.
Sweeney acknowledged that state debt keeps rising, but said this bond can help create – and keep – jobs in the state.
“We cannot, not pass it,” he said.
While bond issues can get lost on the ballot – especially in the midst of this year’s consequential mid-term election – this one seems destined to pass. No public opposition to it has surfaced.
Sweeney noted that the bond is not only supported by both parties, but by business, education and labor groups.
He probably wishes he could get all of them to back legalizing pot as well.