Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged Thursday he doesn’t yet have the votes lined up to pass legalization of recreational cannabis in the full Legislature on Monday.
The admission came at a news conference that seemed like a pep rally for the bills’ passage.
“We are making progress. Period. I don’t want to get into the details. I’m optimistic by nature, but we are not there yet,” Murphy said at Thursday’s afternoon event.
“We have to move a number of chess pieces in the Assembly and Senate. It will take all of us collectively to do that.”
If Monday’s planned vote on legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis fails, the state will revert to a status quo of social injustice, Murphy said.
“We have one chance to protect our kids, to drive the bad guys out of the business and regulate ourselves ... to undo existing social injustices built up over decades,” Murphy said. “The day is Monday, the time is now, we must achieve success.”
The two bills up for a vote Monday in the full Assembly and Senate (A4497 and S2703) were hammered out by his office and legislative leaders, including State President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
They would set up a regulatory scheme for legal recreational cannabis growing, manufacturing, sales and taxation; and would create a system to expunge the records of those previously convicted of low-level marijuana possession and distribution.
The state would take $42 per ounce of cannabis as a tax, and municipalities that host growing, manufacturing and selling facilities would tax sales at 1 percent to 3 percent.
Murphy spoke at a news conference that included other legislators, community and religious leaders, and representatives of the black community. Sweeney and Coughlin were not there, but they sent representatives to read statements of support for passing the bills.
Murphy said the bills would stop members of minority communities from continuing to face prosecution and incarceration for marijuana offenses at far greater rates than members of the white community.
He did not discuss the possibility of decriminalization as an alternative.
Murphy said a huge number of state residents are either incarcerated for low-end marijuana crimes, or have records related to them that prevent them from getting student loans, housing and jobs.
“It’s almost 200,000 people impacted by what we may be able to do on Monday,” said Murphy. “We are not inventing marijuana. We have the widest white, nonwhite gap of people incarcerated in America. If we don’t get it done that’s what we’ll revert to.”