NJ lawmakers pass marijuana referendum for 2020 ballot

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) β€” A super-majority of New Jersey lawmakers on Monday passed a proposed ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, putting the referendum before voters on the 2020 ballot.

The Democrat-led Assembly passed the measure 49-24, with one abstention, while the Senate passed the question 24-16.

The proposal need not go before Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, though he supports marijuana legalization.

The question asks voters if they’ll approve recreational cannabis for people 21 and older. All sales of marijuana products would be subject to the state’s 6.625% sales tax, and towns could pass ordinances to charge local taxes as well.

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β€œThe time to end the prohibition of adult-use cannabis is now,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said.

If approved by voters, New Jersey would become the 11th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational marijuana.

The ballot question was the second choice of Murphy and legislative leaders, who failed in March to advance legislation that would have legalized cannabis. Legislators at the time cited a number of concerns with the bill, including worries that some who were convicted of dealing marijuana could too easily get their records cleared. The opposition at the time was on both sides of the political aisle.

Supporters of the question accepted it after it became clear that legislation didn’t have enough support. Some worried that the ballot question defers lawmakers’ responsibility to address racial and social justice concerns since black residents get arrested on marijuana charges at a disproportionate rate compared with whites.

“A constitutional amendment asks voters to make a decision first and find out the details later, undermining the principles of a representative, participatory democracy,” said Amol Sinha, the executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union.

The larger-than-three-fifths majorities in both chambers matters because it ensures the question will be put to voters by 2020. Had only a simple majority of both houses passed the question, then lawmakers would have had to hold a second vote in the new session, which starts Jan. 14.

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