Gov. Murphy's Mantra Was 'Now Or Never' To Decriminalize, Set Tax On Pot, But Measure Appeared To Lack Needed Support

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Monday was thought to be the day New Jersey would decide whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana.

The vote’s not going to happen.

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Early in the afternoon it was put on hold, presumably because the measure doesn’t have enough support to pass. It’s possible the vote will be held at a later date, assuming Gov. Phil Murphy can drum up more support. If not, New Jersey’s plan to become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana could go up in smoke, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.

If the bill ever does pass, medical marijuana facilities would eventually be able to offer recreational marijuana.

Murphy has been very vocal in his support, saying it’s now or never. The proposed bill allows for the sale and personal use of up to an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and over.

If passed, marijuana would be taxed at $42 an ounce, with towns that have dispensaries permitted to charge up to 3 percent more.

To oversee marijuana regulation, there would be a regulatory commission set up in the state.

The proposal also calls to expunge pending charges and prior marijuana-related convictions for possession of up to 5 pounds. Lawmakers acknowledge it sounds like a lot but say it’s necessary in order to allow for an expedited expungement process, since the statute covering possession for small amounts of cannabis goes up to 5 pounds.

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The measure also aims to incentivize women and minorities to participate in the legal marijuana market by requiring 30 percent of licenses go to these groups.

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The bill also calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and calls for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.

It has been a topic that has divided state leaders and residents. Some against legalization argue it would increase the chances of underage residents getting hold of the drug.

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File photo of marijuana plants. (credit: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

“I understand the state trying to get revenue for it, but I have children, so I’m not sure how if it becomes very prolific in the community, as seen as legal, that it may present a problem,” said Chris Ostermann of Glen Ridge.

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The issue of whether to legalize or not is a hotly contested issue across the state.

“I do think recreational marijuana should be legalized,” one person told CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.

“People walking around high half the time? Come on man, no,” added Roberta Onyango of Montclair.

“I think its gonna bring revenue. As long as it’s controlled and there’s rules and laws around it, sure, why not?” Montclair’s Shifra Balancio said.

If ever legalized in New Jersey, it could be about six months before retail locations open since the commission would have to set guidelines.

Compared to New Jersey’s $42 per-ounce tax, most states with recreational marijuana levy an excise tax as a percentage, though Alaska also levies a per-ounce tax, which is set at $50, according to a survey of tax rates by the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation.

New Jersey’s lawmakers have said they’re pursuing the flat rate as a way to guard against revenue fluctuations if the market price changes.

Medical marijuana in New Jersey is currently subjected to the state’s 6.625 percent sales tax, but that’s being phased out by 2024 under the pending legislation.

Lawmakers in Connecticut are also set to vote Monday on a bill that could legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

The legislation there would establish a new Cannabis Control Commission that would be responsible for regulating the industry, issuing licenses and studying outstanding issues.

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