NEWARK – With the latest goal for legalizing marijuana in New Jersey less than three weeks away, Gov. Phil Murphy met Wednesday with legislative leaders to discuss details of the proposal.

Senate and Assembly Democrats met privately in Trenton on Tuesday to be briefed on the latest proposal, though no consensus was reached. There was at times loud disagreement.

Still, Murphy told reporters Wednesday he believes a legalization bill will pass.

“I know they had the big caucus yesterday. This is being baked as we speak,” Murphy said. The marijuana reference drew some laughs from the business leaders and venture capitalists with whom he was meeting.

“We’re in active discussions. This is one of the areas where we’ve been in active discussions for a while,” Murphy said. “I don’t have a crisper answer for you, but I continue to believe that we get there. Eventually.”

Wednesday's meeting with legislative leaders was to focus on a wide-ranging agenda, including Murphy's economic plan. The governor said the meeting will be followed by one Thursday with the broader leadership of the Legislature.

The latest incarnation of the marijuana legalization proposal provides for a 12 percent state tax rate, with municipalities allowed to add a 2 percent tax for retail locations in their boundaries.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he wouldn’t back a tax rate above 12 percent. That is lower than the eventual rate that would have been reached in early versions of the plan from state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union. Murphy’s budget plan in March envisioned a 25 percent rate.

“Someone said I was at 25 (percent). I’ve never hung my name on any tax rate. To be determined,” Murphy said. “We’re sitting down later on. I want to understand where everybody is. But this is still in process.”

“I think the big one for me on this, and I have to come back to this, is social justice,” he said. “We have the widest white/nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated in America. That’s not right. It can’t continue. It’s not the only reason, but a big contributor is low-end drug crimes. And we got to break the back of that.”

Murphy said lawmakers are in a better position than he is to know if an Oct. 29 vote is realistic.

“I think it’s important, an obvious point: It’s more important to get it right than get it fast,” he said. “And I think we’ve got to make sure that that’s the case.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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