Gov.-elect Phil Murphy hasn't backed down on legalizing marijuana in New Jersey, telling reporters on Tuesday that he isn't concerned that fellow Democratic leaders in the Legislature will derail his agenda.

"We want to get this right," he said, explaining that some of the hedging by lawmakers on the marijuana question is an understandable "visceral reaction."

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Murphy has said he wants to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, holding it up as a matter of social justice. Black people in New Jersey are three times more likely to be arrested and charged under marijuana laws than whites even though both races use the drug at similar rates.

A report in June from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey found that the widest black-white arrest disparities were in Ocean, Salem, Hunterdon, Monmouth and Gloucester counties.

Murphy's gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, favored decriminalization, which would keep marijuana as a controlled and dangerous substance but would keep offenders out of jail. Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes both legalization and decriminalization, said the latter would be preferable if lawmakers are genuinely interested in social justice rather than just tax revenues. Christie has repeatedly called potential marijuana tax revenues "blood money."

Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. They were followed by Washington, D.C., Oregon and Alaska in 2014, and California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada last year. New Jersey is among 23 states with laws allowing medical marijuana.

Murphy on Tuesday said that decriminalization "leaves the industry in the hands of the bad guys and it leaves our minors completely exposed."

Michael Symons contributed to this report.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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