Gov. Philip D. Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders in New Jersey have reached an agreement that could place the state on a path to legalizing recreational marijuana this year if they are able to win enough support in the state legislature. The agreement, which establishes how marijuana would be taxed and sets parameters on a committee to regulate the drug, marks a significant step forward for Mr. Murphy’s promise to introduce the roughly $50 billion national recreational cannabis market to a major population center on the East Coast and on New York City’s doorstep.
But while the state legislature is controlled by Democrats and has embraced a progressive agenda, such as raising the minimum hourly wage to $15, efforts to legalize marijuana has divided lawmakers. Some African-American legislators, led by Ronald L. Rice, a state senator from Newark, are wary of supporting legalization because of the impact it may have on low-income and minority neighborhoods. Also, most Republicans in both chambers oppose legalization.
Mr. Murphy said on Tuesday he’s optimistic that the legislation could get passed. In the Assembly, whose members face an election year in November, some Democrats are concerned about how a vote for legalizing marijuana could affect their campaigns. According to a poll from Monmouth University, 62 percent of residents support legalizing recreational marijuana while 32 percent oppose the idea.
The lack of certainty around legalization despite news of agreement among political leaders is somewhat unusual in New Jersey. Typically, the governor and legislative leaders negotiate behind closed doors and announce an agreement on a bill when passage is essentially guaranteed, as was the case with the minimum wage raise. But with marijuana legalization, reports in the media surfaced about an agreement without a final bill or guaranteed support, reflecting the interest in the issue. New Jersey is seeking to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana and only the second to do it through legislation instead of through a ballot measure.
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