With less than two weeks to go before Thanksgiving, it’s looking less and less likely New Jersey will legalize recreational pot before the end of this year.

Gov. Phil Murphy had made legalizing marijuana one of his front-burner issues when he took office last January. But negotiations on a legislative package have stalled.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who must sign off on any marijuana bill that’s put up for a vote, is making it clear he’s drawn a line in the sand over how much the state should tax recreational weed.

“If you tax too much you’re going to drive people to the black market," he said.

During a forum with the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants on Thursday, Sweeney said legalizing pot will create 43,000 new jobs, so it will benefit the state economy in more ways than one.

“But the biggest problem is everyone wants a piece of it," he said.

“The less you tax the more you attract, I really do believe that. So with marijuana, I’m not going above 12 percent, that’s as high as I’ll go."

He said he opposes allowing municipalities to tack on a 5 percent tax.

When Murphy was asked if he agrees with holding the tax on recreational pot at a rate no higher than 12 percent, he was non-committal.

“I won’t get into the specifics of it 'cause I would not normally do that with a piece of legislation that’s evolving, and I have not married myself to a particular tax rate," he said.

“I’m not sure where the Senate president gets that particular number. I don’t begrudge him that, by the way, I just have not married myself to a number.”

Murphy did agree that “you want to have a rate to the consumer that allows you eliminate as best you can the black market.”

Sweeney said even if marijuana is legalized by the end of the year, it’ll be six months to a year before it will be offered for sale in Jersey because of plant growing and other regulatory issues.

“If legalizing pot were put up for a vote in the form of a constitutional amendment, probably 68 percent of Jersey residents would vote for it. But state leaders don’t want to go down that road,” he said.

“Once you do something through constitutional amendment, every time you see that you have to correct something you have to do it through constitutional amendment, and that’s too slow. It’s not nimble enough.”

The governor did not speculate on when recreational marijuana legislation would be finalized, but he confirmed he’s still committed to making it happen.

“Why are we doing this? We’re doing this because we have the largest white-non white gap of persons incarcerated in America, we’ve got to have a look-back provision that mirrors ultimately what we’re going to legalize,” he said.

Secondly, “we want to take the business out of the hands of the bad guys. Thirdly, we want to protect our kids. We want to regulate it and lastly, if we can make a few bucks on it, count me in for that.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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