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Days ahead of a planned vote in the Legislature that would make New Jersey the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said March 21, 2019, that the measure is short of the votes needed to pass.

Murphy spoke during a news conference alongside more than a dozen supporters of the bill, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), and said he and legislative leaders are “making progress, but we have a ways to go.”

Murphy and fellow Democrats, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney, support the measure, which would legalize recreational cannabis for people 21 and older.

But lawmakers have expressed reluctance, and the vote's outcome on March 25, 2019, is uncertain. Forty-one votes are needed in the Assembly and 21 in the Senate.

Murphy's March 21 push comes after the bills advanced March 18 in Assembly and Senate committees more than a year after Murphy took office on a promise that he would legalize recreational weed. New Jersey is already one of more than a couple of dozen states that has legalized medical marijuana.

A man rolls a joint outside of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton on March 21, 2015, as part of a show of support for marijuana legalization. Four years later on the same day, New Jersey is on the cusp of legalizing recreational marijuana, though Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said it might be short of votes needed to pass. Murphy continues to advocate for legislators to pass legalization. (Associated Press file photo/Mel Evans)

The bill would bring in an estimated $60 million initially in new tax revenues, which has led to criticism that Murphy wants to legalize the drug as a tax grab.

But Murphy on March 21 rebutted those attacks and cast the bill as unmistakably tied to relieving racial injustice, citing a higher rate of marijuana-related arrests among black people.

He also aimed at lawmakers who worry about the exposure of marijuana to young people.

“Our kids are exposed with no regulations. The bad guys run the business. That's the status quo,” Murphy said. “The status quo is the alternative.”

Our kids are exposed with no regulations. The bad guys run the business. That's the status quo. The status quo is the alternative. Click To Tweet

If the measure passes, New Jersey would become the 11th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational cannabis. Most states have used ballot initiatives to do so, but New Jersey is pushing it through the Legislature.

Legislators have said a law makes it easier for them to tweak, compared with a ballot initiative to change the constitution.

The 176-page measure imposes a $42 per ounce tax, sets up a regulatory commission and expedites marijuana-related expungements.

The measure aims to incentivize women and minorities to participate in the legal marijuana market by requiring 30 percent of licenses go to them, and it calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.

— Mike Catalini

Featured Image: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.