New Jersey governor: Push to legalize recreational marijuana is short on votes

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Days ahead of a planned vote in the Legislature that would make New Jersey the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday the measure is short of the votes needed to pass next week.

The Democrat spoke during a news conference alongside more than a dozen supporters of the bill, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

Murphy said he and legislative leaders are “making progress, but we have a ways to go.”

Murphy and two fellow Democrats, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney, support the measure, which would legalize recreational cannabis for people 21 and older.

But lawmakers have expressed reluctance, and the vote’s outcome Monday is uncertain. Forty-one votes are needed in the Assembly and 21 in the Senate.

Murphy’s push Thursday comes after the bills advanced March 18 in Assembly and Senate committees more than a year after Murphy took office on a promise that he would legalize recreational MJ.

The bill would bring in an estimated $60 million initially in new tax revenues, which has led to criticism that Murphy wants to legalize the drug as a tax grab.

But Murphy on Thursday rebutted those attacks and cast the bill as unmistakably tied to relieving racial injustice, citing a higher rate of marijuana-related arrests among black people.

He also aimed at lawmakers who worry about the exposure of marijuana to young people.

“Our kids are exposed with no regulations,” he said. “The bad guys run the business.”

Most states have used ballot initiatives to do so, but New Jersey is pushing it through the Legislature.

– Associated Press