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New Jersey Inches Closer to Legalizing Marijuana Without Voter Referendum

There is consensus in the Garden State that marijuana should not be a crime but no agreement on how to legalize and regulate an enormous new market.

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The deal isn’t quite done. The details still needed to be hammered out. But it looks like New Jersey, the 11th biggest state in the country, may be on the verge of legalizing marijuana.

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The operative phrase in the above is “may be.”

While Gov. Philip Murphy, a proponent of legalized marijuana during his campaign for governor, and leading state legislators have come to an agreement on a way to regulate and tax marijuana, more debate is expected as the state Legislature takes up the issue. At stake is what is projected as a billion-dollar marijuana industry in the Garden State. There are other ramifications as well, such as the fact that legal weed in New Jersey may push New York lawmakers to make it legal in that state faster.

Related: Spike Jonze Directed a MedMen Commercial About Cannabis. And It's Pretty Epic.

Where things stand

In New Jersey, the current issue is getting a bill through the state Legislature that would legalize recreational marijuana. Even if it moves through quickly, sales in New Jersey would likely not start until 2020.

But will it will move through quickly? Or at all?

Proponents think legalization could be approved as soon as March. “And so now we finally have an agreement in principle on tough issues like regulation and taxation. Then we must convince a majority to support it. So we’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, told Leafly.

On the other hand, if there is a long delay with debate, more legislators may become acquainted with the arguments against legalized weed - or, at least, that is the hope of opponents such as this columnist with the Asbury Park Press.

Related: Booker, Harris Push Marijuana Legalization to Center Stage for 2020 Election

Not a sure thing.

It has taken a year of negotiations about marijuana legalization in New Jersey because so many constituencies want different outcomes from what promises to be a huge industry. That includes issues involving taxation, regulation, the details of the licensing procedure, the rights of local jurisdictions, expungement of past pot criminal records and so on.

Democrats are not all united on this issue. According to the New York Times, Senator Ronald L. Rice, a former Newark police officer who has long represented New Jersey's largest city, leads a group of African-American lawmakers reluctant to support legalization because they worry it will harm the same low-income and minority neighborhoods ravaged by the War on Drugs.

Republicans, however, are united - in opposition. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who put together the bill to legalize marijuana, told the Times: “The most important aspect of it is we don’t necessarily have all the votes lined up yet.”

If legal recreational marijuana is approved by the legislature, New Jersey will become the 11th state with legal adult-use marijuana and the second to do so without a vote by the people (Vermont was the first).

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