Despite optimism and news of deal, NJ marijuana talks ‘ongoing’
PISCATAWAY – An agreement on marijuana legalization in New Jersey isn’t yet complete, and despite recent progress and optimism, there’s still not a timetable for a vote.
Reports were published Friday night that a deal had finally been reached on one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promises and first-year priorities. But after signing an unrelated law Tuesday expanding New Jersey’s paid family leave program, Murphy indicated to reporters that work on the issue continues.
“We had a very constructive meeting on Thursday. I think I would say optimistic, but we’re still trying to machine this through to get it over the goal line,” Murphy said. “But I think we’re all working really hard to get this done.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who also attended the bill-signing ceremony, described the negotiations as ongoing in echoing Murphy’s assessment.
“I have steadfastly resisted the temptation to talk about ongoing legislative negotiations,” Coughlin said. “But I think that the governor’s right when he says that we had a very, very productive meeting on Thursday, and I think we’re all optimistic about being able to get the ball over the goal line.”
Among the main sticking points in the talks over marijuana legalization has been the tax rate, with Murphy pushing for a higher rate than Senate President Steve Sweeney said he would support. Rather than tax marijuana using a percentage rate, the compromise calls for it to be taxed at $42 an ounce.
Another issue was how it would be regulated by the state. A five-member commission is likely to be established, and the governor would appoint three of the members.
Murphy declined to discuss details or predict when the bill would be ready for a vote.
“This is complicated. We’re standing up an entire industry from scratch, and I think only one other state has done this legislatively,” Murphy said. “Only Vermont has done it legislatively, so this is a – we’ve said all along that this is not a light lift.”
“We’ve said this all along: Getting it right is a lot more important than getting it fast,” he said.
Once Murphy, Sweeney, Coughlin and bill sponsors reach a deal on the details, it could take time to attract the needed votes for the bill to pass – 21 in the 40-person Senate and 41 in the 80-person Assembly. Democrats hold two-thirds of the seats, but some of them oppose legalization.
“I try to resist deadlines because the overarching consideration for me and for my caucus is to make sure that we’re thorough and thoughtful about this and that we get a bill that’s in the best interest of New Jersey,” Coughlin said.
“This is a seismic shift in public policy and the creation of a new industry,” he said. “Those are both demanding items, so we want to make sure we get it right. And we want to make sure that we have a bill in place that people can support, and so there’s an awful lot of work that goes into it.”