TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — Lawmakers in New Jersey dealt a big blow to the prospect of recreational marijuana. A vote in the state Senate had to be postponed after the Senate president and Gov. Phil Murphy’s lobbying campaign failed to muster enough support. State Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement that despite not having the votes today, “this fight is not over.”
“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney added that he remains “committed to its passage.”
Both New Jersey’s Assembly and Senate were planning to vote on legalizing marijuana if leaders had enough commitments for “yes” votes to get the bill passed. Around 12:30 p.m., Sweeney announced the vote was off because he couldn’t get the necessary 21 senators on board.
“The Senate was very close to 21 votes and, with more education and advocacy, I believe we will get this legislation across the finish line,” Sweeney said in a statement.
Lawmakers who were pushing for the bill say they came up short on the votes because some veteran Democrats are philosophically opposed to recreational marijuana use.
“I might have under-estimated the challenge of getting this passed,” said Sweeney.
Murphy expressed optimism that even though it didn’t pass Monday, an effort to legalize recreational marijuana is not dead for good.
“I am committed and I know we are all committed to continuing the conversations we’ve had with lawmakers that we began over the last few months,” said Murphy.
“We are not defeated,” the governor added.
Murphy has previously said he would continue to try to persuade people, but it’s unclear when another vote would be scheduled.
“Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied,” said Murphy.
Senate Republicans aren’t against legalizing weed, but the biggest road block was within the Democratic Party.
Veteran Democrat state Sen. Shirley Turner and fellow Black Caucus leader, state Sen. Ronald Rice, are philosophically opposed to legalizing marijuana. They worry about the negative impact bringing a billion-dollar weed industry to the state could have on children and teens.
“We’re sending a mixed message to our children. We have told them to stay away from drugs, to say no to drugs,” said Turner.
Legalization supporters say hitting the pause button is not a forever stoppage.
“We’re postponing today but that in no way means that we failed or we’re walking away from it,” said Sweeney.
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.
“I don’t think legalizing marijuana in New Jersey is a good thing,” said Doherty. “I think it causes a lot of harm.”
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.
Almost every state that has legalized recreational marijuana did it through the ballot and polls suggest New Jersey voters would approve just a measure, but that’s not what lawmakers want to do. They want a comprehensive package. There is no timetable when they might take it up again.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)