Gov. Phil Murphy dismissed concerns from various political insiders that the push for marijuana-legalization could be jeopardized by his administration’s scrutiny into wrongdoing with the state’s multi-billion dollar tax break program.
“They literally have nothing to do with each other,” Murphy said at an unrelated event in Newark Monday morning.
Murphy plans to meet with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, Wednesday to figure out how the marijuana-legalization bill can get the full 21 votes to pass the state Senate, according to a person familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity.
Although the state Assembly has the 41 votes needed for the measure to pass, the upper house is several votes short.
“There’s already an agreement. Sweeney, Murphy and Coughlin already have an agreement. It’s just the votes,” the person said.
Sweeney told NJBIZ last week that some lawmakers had been spooked by the decriminalization of marijuana up to five pounds, as well as how the bill would handle how many feet away from a school a person could use marijuana.
A person close to the discussions confirmed that this was also a concern for lawmakers, especially in tightly packed, densely populated urban regions where residential neighborhoods, commercial districts and multiple school zones simultaneously overlap.
State law generally mandates harsher sentences for use, dealing or possession of marijuana within school districts. As for decriminalization, the state currently treats possession of between 1 ounce and 5 pounds of cannabis as the same.
NJ.com was the first to report over the weekend of the potential jeopardization of the legal cannabis vote as a result of Murphy’s task force scrutinizing abuse, illegal actions and rule-bending of the multibillion-dollar Grow New Jersey tax break program, which is run by the Economic Development Authority.
Last week, the task force unearthed allegations that businesses with strong ties to insurance executive and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross were able to obtain the lion’s share of $1.6 billion of tax breaks that went to businesses moving to Camden.
The task force also revealed last week that Parker McKay, a law firm run by George’s brother, Philip Norcross, was able to write provisions of the tax break law which benefited clients of the law firm.
Sweeney is a key ally of insurance executive and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, and Murphy’s harsh criticisms of the tax break program have been viewed by insiders as a proxy political battle between Murphy and Sweeney.