Gov. Phil Murphy wouldn’t say on Monday whether he supported the marijuana legalization bill being pushed by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney, even as both legislative budget committees held a hearing on the bill.
“We haven’t commented on specifics, but I’m very happy that this is moving,” Murphy said following an unrelated press conference Tuesday. “This is first and foremost for me, and I’m going to reiterate this, a matter of social justice.”
Murphy’s refusal to endorse or condemn the bill could sidestep a fight between him and the two legislative leaders over provisions in the bill that the two sides have long disagreed on. At the very least, it will likely delay such a conflict.
The 12% tax rate sought on marijuana sales by Sweeney and Coughlin is significantly lower than the rate sought by Murphy’s administration. Murphy’s team prefers a tax rate of roughly 25%, a figure that falls much closer to those of states like Washington, which levies a 37% sales tax on marijuana, and Massachusetts which taxes marijuana sales at 30%.
The plan proposed by legislative leaders would also allow municipalities to levy a 2% tax on marijuana sales, but even at 14%, New Jersey’s tax on marijuana would be among the lowest in the nation.
They say they want to keep the tax rate relatively low to keep consumers from going back to the black market to purchase marijuana, but they have moved from their initial offer of a 10% tax rate.
“I’m encouraged it’s moving in the right direction, and it’s too early to tell as it relates to exactly the elements that, ultimately, are in there,” Murphy said.
Still, none of this matters unless legislative leaders can drum up enough votes to get the bill to the governor’s desk.