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Legal weed may be in trouble as lawmakers struggle to secure votes

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TRENTON -

It’s been the talk of the state for over a year, but the fight for legalized marijuana in New Jersey is not over just yet.

A bill to legalize the recreational use of the substance has advanced in the Legislature. But lawmakers say that they are still struggling to get enough votes to pass the measure in the state Assembly.

“It’s going to take all of us. It’s going to take a village in this case,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at an event in North Brunswick Wednesday. “It’s going to be very close in both chambers.”

A vote on the bill is expected to take place Monday, March 25. And Murphy says that he is working hard to get support from lawmakers.

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“I couldn't be more passionate. But having said that, this is going to be very close and [Senate President Steve Sweeney], [Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin] and myself are going to have to lay it all out to get this over the goal line,” the governor says.

One lawmaker who isn’t likely to vote for the bill is state Sen. Kip Bateman. The moderate Republican was seen as a potential “yes” vote on the legislation. But he says that this all changed after an extra-long committee hearing this past Monday where he says Democrats went behind closed doors to rewrite the bill at the last minute.

“It was 176 pages and they wanted us to vote it out - without any public input at all. So I thought the whole process was wrong. I thought it wasn't transparent,” Bateman says.

Now Murphy and other legislative leaders are turning to persuadable Democratic senators who haven't yet declared a firm position. Estimates put the bill anywhere from five to 10 votes short of the 21 votes needed to pass the Senate.

And Hanging over the Monday deadline is potential competition from a neighboring state which is also mulling legalization of marijuana.

“I think we’re trying to beat New York to it,” says Bateman. “We wanted to be the first ones out there because it means revenue. But to do it for the tax revenue is the wrong reason.”

Murphy says that he will continue advocating for the marijuana bill Thursday afternoon during a news conference with community and faith leaders in Trenton.

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