Murphy, Sweeney, Coughlin reach deal on marijuana legalization

Marijuana legalization New Jersey

Multiple sources told POLITICO there’s hope a vote could be held before the end of the month. | Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders have reached a broad agreement on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey, according to four sources familiar with the negotiations.

“The consensus on the broad strokes is relatively fresh, so the details are still being worked out,” one source with direct knowledge of the talks told POLITICO.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari played a key role in the negotiations, the source said. The Union County Democrat could not immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

The deal was struck during a meeting between Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) on Thursday, two of the sources said.

Under terms of the agreement, New Jersey will impose a $42 per ounce tax on the sale of recreational cannabis, three of the sources said. Taxing marijuana sales by weight, rather than as a percentage of sales, is expected to mitigate any impact a larger cannabis supply might have on the price of pot, they said.

Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin also agreed that the Senate would waive its approval of the governor’s picks for a Cannabis Regulatory Commission, effectively granting the governor more sway in determining who will be responsible for regulating the industry.

While the three Democrats have all agreed on marijuana legalization in principle, they had been unable to find any middle ground on competing proposals on how to best tax and regulate the state’s recreational cannabis industry.

The Murphy camp had originally hoped the bill would set a high tax rate on recreational sales — as much as 25 percent — with a part-time regulatory commission tasked with creating rules and issuing permits for new cannabis businesses. Legislative leaders, led by Sweeney, preferred a lower tax rate, as low as 10 percent in one proposal, with a full-time regulatory commission.

With a deal in place, all three Democratic leaders have agreed to start whipping votes in support of the legalization bill. Sweeney had previously asked for Murphy’s help in swaying five Democratic senators — Nia Gill (D-Essex, Passaic), Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), as well as two Essex County Democrats who are staunch opponents of legalization, former Gov. Richard Codey and Ron Rice.

Multiple sources told POLITICO there’s hope a vote could be held before the end of the month, in advance of budget negotiations between Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin that will likely be contentious.

News of the deal on legalization was first reported by New Jersey Globe.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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