On Nov. 18, Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced that the legislature would try to pass marijuana legalization through a ballot measure rather than legislation.

New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform issued the following statement in response:

“Putting legalization of adult-use marijuana on the ballot is a profound mistake. We call on the Legislature to approach the issue head-on with an up-or-down vote before the end of session, especially before taking the drastic step of proposing an amendment to the state Constitution. Advocates and lawmakers have worked painstakingly to secure racial and social justice in legislation to legalize cannabis. It benefits New Jerseyans to have the Legislature cast a vote before abandoning this current bill, which has provisions that can begin repairing the harms of the drug war and can truly make people’s lives better by preventing tens of thousands of unnecessary arrests.

“Taking the extreme step of amending the Constitution is rarely done in New Jersey, and for a good reason: voters should not be told to vote first on an important issue and ask questions later. Voters need to know the details of a complex proposal like the legalization of adult-use cannabis – details that should not be sorted out in a yes-or-no, all-or-nothing vote at the ballot box. Rather, these details should be worked out in the Legislature, where the people can have input.

“We need to pass legalization through legislation. Over the last legislative session, advocates worked with stakeholders and lawmakers to include critical racial and social justice provisions in a bill. With legislation, we wouldn’t have to go back to the drawing board and negotiate again to include the most important parts of the bill, those that are essential to begin undoing the destruction of the drug war. We would know what we’re getting: a powerful bill that would be the first in the country to center racial justice.

“The Legislature will still have to vote on a constitutional amendment, but the details will be up for grabs, through follow-up legislation that spells out the specific, minute details that determine how to enact the broad constitutional amendment. Without going through the give and take of the legislative process from the start, the people will have little say in the final bill and will have to wait years for the justice that has been long denied to their communities.

“Senate President Sweeney has expressed confidence that a ballot question on changing the Constitution will pass. If there is support for legalization, why would legislative leaders use this maneuver to drag out the process instead of getting the job done? Lawmakers are abdicating their responsibility to legislate and instead purposefully delaying justice for thousands of New Jerseyans. 

“With people’s lives hanging in the balance, and a projection that more than 30,000 marijuana arrests will take place each year until legalization goes into effect, justice should take precedence over politics. We call upon our legislative leadership and the Governor to fulfill their promise to New Jerseyans and deliver justice this year.”