Governor, legislative leaders reach agreement on marijuana legalization plan

After a year of negotiating, Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin finally have a marijuana legalization package they agree on.

Murphy made the announcement Tuesday morning. He said the social justice ramifications have been his driving motivation, but he also touted the economic benefits.

“The billions of dollars in the economic reality I referred to is factual if you look at other states that have done this. So if you look at the impact on Colorado or Massachusetts — to pick two examples I’ve cited recently — it’s thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity,” Murphy said.

The bill sets the state tax on marijuana sales at $42 per ounce. The total cost of an ounce is usually about $400, Murphy said.

Municipalities can tack on a tax of 1 percent if they are home to a wholesaler, 2 percent if they are home to a grower, and 3 percent if they are home to a dispensary.

The bill sets up a five-person Cannabis Regulatory Commission, three seats appointed by the governor, two more by him upon the recommendation of the Senate president and the speaker. It allows for a speedy expungement of prior low-level possession convictions, and it creates incentives for minority, women and low-income-owned businesses.

Right now the votes are not all there to pass the deal, as Sweeney acknowledged Monday night.

“Our goal is March 25 because, and right now I couldn’t tell you I had 21 votes or 41 votes. All I know is that the leadership — the governor, myself and the speaker — are in agreement, and now it’s time to ratchet up the votes to get it passed. If it passes, I wouldn’t see adult-use pass before, implementation until the end of the year because it takes time to get the regulations in place to ensure that we have an industry that’s safe and is guarded against abuse,” Sweeney said.

Sources say the effort is still 3 to 5 votes short in the Senate and 5 to 8 votes short in the Assembly. The leaders say they’ll be working to gather those votes over the next two weeks. It won’t be easy, although a Senate source says those votes are “eminently get-able.”

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