New Jersey comes down to wire on legalizing recreational pot
By MIKE CATALINI
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A vote to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey is hours away Monday, but the governor and legislative leaders are still courting lawmakers.
The Democrat-led Senate and Assembly have scheduled votes on the legislation backed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, but its passage is far from certain.
Murphy said last week he has been trying to persuade hesitant lawmakers to back the bill but still doesn't have the votes needed.
If the bill fails or falls short, Murphy said he would continue to try to persuade people, but it's unclear when another vote would be scheduled.
New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 10 other states if the measure succeeds. New Jersey would be just the second state, after Vermont, to legalize recreational weed through its Legislature rather than by voter-approved referendum.
The 176-page bill calls for a tax of $42 per ounce, setting up a five-member regulator commission and expediting expungements to people with marijuana-related offenses.
The measure lets towns that host retailers, growers, wholesalers and processors levy taxes as well, up to 3 percent in some cases.
The expungement provisions, which Murphy says will set New Jersey apart from any other state with legal weed, waive any fee for expungement processing and permit clearing of records for possession up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).
Lawmakers said during hearings that while it sounds like a lot, it's necessary to allow for an expedited expungement process. They say the statute covering possession for small amounts of cannabis goes up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).
That unsettled some lawmakers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty. The change appeared to permit felons, and not just low-level offenders, to qualify for expungement, he said.
The bill also says tax revenue would go into a fund for "development, regulations, and enforcement of cannabis activities," including paying for expungement costs, with the balance going to the general fund.
The measure considers lawmaker concerns about women-and minority-owned businesses becoming part of the legal pot market and requires 30 percent of licenses go to them.
It also calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.
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