Earlier this month, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney announced he would abandon the push to legalize recreational marijuana and would instead allow state residents to vote on the issue in a referendum in 2020.

In March, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) vowed to continue fighting for legalizing the drug after a measure introduced by Democrats in New Jersey’s state legislature failed. This month, Illinois lawmakers said marijuana could become legal by 2020, while other states like Michigan, Missouri and Utah have already allowed the drug to be used for medical or recreational purposes. New Jersey is also  seeking to expunge many marijuana convictions.

In a press conference on May 14, Sweeney said that although he is disappointed legislation for pot legalization failed, he is optimistic that turnout in the 2020 referendum will be high.

“The 2020 general election, I think, will be successful, and we will move forward with adult use,” he said.

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Should New Jersey’s legislature put a marijuana legalization referendum on its 2020 ballot as planned, a measure could be passed with simple majorities in consecutive years. Murphy would not be officially involved in this process.

Sweeney said Murphy was partly to blame for pushing a one-sided initiative to legalize medical marijuana in New Jersey, saying this move made it difficult for Sweeney to convince undecided state lawmakers to back his own proposed bill.

This week, a marijuana policy group called SAM Action (Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action) released a statement on the latest development concerning the issue.

“Consecutive years of victories for public health and safety in these states is revealing that the movement for legalization is losing steam,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, the group’s founder and president. “Last week was a resounding, nationwide victory for the minority communities who are relentlessly targeted by Big Marijuana and its Big Tobacco funders, as well as families, schools, and those using roads or public transportation.”

Sabet previously worked as a drug policy advisor to former President Barack Obama. 

Many Democratic lawmakers around the country have stressed the need for national criminal justice reform, citing the fact that minorities are often disproportionately affected by punishment for low-level offenses like marijuana use.

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