Gov. Phil Murphy and top state lawmakers have resolved the last major sticking point in their year-long talks on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey, NJ Advance Media has learned.
That sets up the possibility of an historic vote on the plan in less than two weeks.
After reaching a final deal on the bill late Monday, Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the state Legislature will now try to whip up the votes they need from lawmakers to pass the measure, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
The goal is for a vote to happen in both houses of the Legislature — the state Senate and Assembly — on March 25, the sources said.
Murphy would then need to sign the bill for it to become law.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Murphy, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin are expected to formally announce the agreement as early as Tuesday morning.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told a crowd at a town hall Monday night at Monmouth University in West Long Branch that Murphy and lawmakers “agreed to the concept of a bill” and that a March 25 vote is the target.
““It’s time,” Sweeney added, according to a report by InsiderNJ.
Monday’s development puts the Garden State closer than ever to legal pot after more than a year filled with promises and delays from top leaders.
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New Jersey is aiming to join 10 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana. But it would be only the second state, after Vermont, to do so through the legislative process rather than having voters decide through a ballot referendum.
The legislation, if enacted, would legalize, tax, and regulate legal weed for adults 21 and older in New Jersey.
But it’s still not a guaranteed to become law. Though both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats, numerous lawmakers from both parties remain either against the plan or on the fence.
Sources said leaders are still at least six votes short of the 21 they need to pass the measure in the state Senate and at least three votes shy of the 41 needed in the Assembly.
Whether Murphy, Sweeney, and Coughlin can convince enough lawmakers over the next 13 days will determine whether the legislation comes up for a vote March 25.
The three leaders have long supported legal weed, but it wasn’t until last month they agreed on the framework of a bill. Even then, there was one final hiccup in the tortured negotiations.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, wanted to renegotiate the language establishing a Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a powerful entity that would control all aspects of the nascent industry, as well as the state’s medical marijuana program.
In a concession to gain Murphy’s support for the commission, Sweeney and Coughlin, D-Middlesex, gave the governor full authority to appoint three of the five commission members with the Senate’s customary advice and consent.
But Sweeney wanted a caveat: If any of these three appointees resign before their term runs out, he wanted the Senate to approve whomever Murphy appoints to replace them.
That’s what the leaders agreed to on Monday, sources said.
But now, leaders are against the clock. Sweeney told NJ Advance Media last week the Legislature would need to vote by the end of March if they wanted to avoid another several months of waiting. That, the Senate president said, is because many lawmakers are on vacation in April, and May is gummed up by state budget negotiations.
Sweeney said Monday afternoon the likelihood of a March 25 vote is “high.”
If that doesn’t happen, he said, a vote might be pushed to “lame duck,” the period that begins after the November election.
Appearing together at an unrelated news conference in South Amboy on Monday morning, Murphy and Coughlin both said the goal is to make sure the bill is crafted correctly before rushing to a vote.
Murphy said he remains “optimistic” about legal pot and that he wants a vote “sooner rather than later,” as long as “it’s done right.”
Coughlin said March 25 was a “good target date.”
“But I think it’s most important that we get this right,” the Assembly speaker said. “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.”