Gov. Phil Murphy has not had any discussions with legislative leaders about pushing through marijuana legalization ahead of a November referendum in order to secure additional revenues in the face of a fiscal downturn over the COVID-19 crisis.
“Marijuana I haven’t really talked about. I wish we already had it, frankly, because it would be a source of revenue, putting aside the social injustices, which would have been addressed,” Murphy said Thursday. “We’re late to it, mostly for social injustices, but could we use the revenue right now? Yes. But I don’t think we’ve had any discussions — I know I haven’t — about moving it forward.”
Earlier this week, Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio froze $920 million of this year’s budget in preparation for revenue declines related to the pandemic expected this quarter.
She said revenue projections for the coming year’s budgets would also have to be reigned in and warned that the budget Murphy introduced in February would need significant revisions.
In 2019, Murphy’s administration projected legal weed would generate $60 million in tax revenue between January and June of this year if passed.
The bill languished and eventually died after Senate Democrats failed to secure 21 votes to pass it, and both chambers of the legislature have since voted to put legalization on the ballot for 2020, with a lower tax rate than was present in last year’s legalization bill.
Legislators had begun pushing decriminalization as a stop-gap measure, but that plan has also been disrupted by the ongoing crisis.
Last month, State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, one of the decriminalization bill’s prime Senate sponsors, said she expected to have a bill ready by the end of March.
“We were drafting a bill, and then getting it out to the stakeholders. That’s where we were at last,” she said Thursday, adding that the bill would now likely be delayed.
It’s possible for lawmakers to pass either measures, even in the face of mitigation measures that impose strict restrictions on public gatherings.
Under a recently-signed law, the legislature can hold committee meetings and full votes in either chamber remotely.
The Assembly held its first ever remote session on Wednesday, though the scope of that session was limited to measures related to the COVID-19 crisis.