By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Tuesday reached an agreement in principle with Democratic lawmakers for the state to potentially become the second in the country to legalize the recreational use of cannabis though legislation.
Most of the 10 U.S. states that have legalized pot, in defiance of a federal ban on the drug, have done so through referendums, starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012.
“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs investment banker who called for legalizing weed when he ran for office in 2017, said in a statement.
Under the deal, lawmakers are drafting legislation to tax pot sales, expunge past convictions for low-level cannabis offenses and create opportunities for minorities and women to enter the business, the governor’s office said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear when the bill, if passed, would go into effect. Democrats control both the New Jersey Senate and the General Assembly.
A representative for Murphy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The agreement follows months of negotiations. Opposition to the plan has emerged, including from urban leaders, health officials, educators and police chiefs.
On Tuesday, Asbury Park Press editorial writer Randy Bergmann, in an essay posted online, appealed to Garden State residents to fight the proposal.
“There is only one thing that can stop it now: You and like-minded friends who believe there is nothing good that can come from legalization – and, potentially, plenty of harm,” Bergmann wrote, saying that U.S. government agencies and medical organizations have warned about “the adverse health effects” of marijuana, “particularly on young people and those with mental health issues.”
New Jersey is among more than 30 states that allow marijuana for medical use.
“I believe this new, regulated industry will help boost our economy, but I’m particularly proud of the critical social justice components included in the bill,” Craig Coughlin, a Democrat and speaker of the General Assembly, said in a statement.
Last year, Vermont became the first state in the United States to legalize weed for recreational use through state-level legislation.
Legislators in New Mexico are considering a bill to legalize adult use of pot and create the nation’s first state-operated stores for selling weed.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Leslie Adler)