New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and top lawmakers in the state legislature have finalized a deal to legalize recreational marijuana, setting up a potential vote by the end of the month, NJ.com reports.
Murphy, who was elected governor in 2017, campaigned on legalization and promised to enact it within his first 100 days in office. While discussions hit several snags that prolonged the process, both houses of the New Jersey legislature are expected to vote on the bill March 25th.
Per New Jersey 101.5, the final bill is still being tweaked but it does lay out a set of tax rates and establish a five-person regulatory commission. Crucially, the New Jersey bill also ensures that those with low-level marijuana offenses would have their records expunged, while it also contains provisions that ensure women, minorities and people from low- and middle-income communities will be able to actively participate in the legal marijuana industry.
Should the bill pass, New Jersey would become the second state, after Vermont, to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.
However, passage of the bill is not guaranteed. While Democrats control both chambers of the New Jersey legislature, the state Senate is reportedly six votes short of the necessary 21 and the General Assembly is three votes shy of the necessary 41.
On Monday, Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin — who have spearheaded the legalization effort with Senate President Stephen Sweeney — appeared at an unrelated press conference and said they were optimistic about a March 25th vote, but would not guarantee it.
“I think it’s most important that we get this right,” said Coughlin. “We’re doing something that’s a seismic shift in public policy and we’re creating a new industry. I think that demands we get both of those things right.”
Though a recent Rutgers University poll found that 60 percent of New Jersey residents support legalization, many lawmakers remain on the fence and staunch opposition has grown over the course of the year-long talks. The anti-marijuana lobbying group Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy has been actively targeting local officials, while a coalition of mayors, council members and law enforcement from 45 New Jersey towns even preemptively banned marijuana dispensaries.
Should New Jersey’s marijuana legalization bill fail to pass or even come to a vote this month, the legislature may not be able to take it up again until after local elections take place this November.