Why Marijuana Legalization Is Dividing Democrats

May 20, 2019 AT 8:36 AM

By Paul Demko, Shia Kapos and Sam Sutton

This was supposed to be the big year for marijuana legalization. But in many state capitols across the country, efforts have stalled or collapsed as Democrats clash over everything from race and criminal justice to how to divvy up a gold mine of pot-tax revenue.

Legalization of recreational marijuana seemed all but inevitable in at least a half-dozen states when the year began — including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, which all have Democratic legislatures.

But in state after state, proposals encountered significant turbulence, and the clock is running out on the legislative season.

New Jersey’s top lawmaker declared the state’s legalization drive dead and will instead support a 2020 ballot referendum. New York Democrats are trying to rekindle efforts to pass a bill that would permit recreational use after negotiations stalled out during the budget process in March. And in New Mexico, a legalization bill got pushed aside for more pressing priorities, most notably boosting education funding.

Disputes over addressing racial and economic justice issues, home cultivation of cannabis plants and marijuana-related state revenue have splintered Democrats as they seek to corral enough votes for passage.

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