‘We have a ways to go.’ Gov. Murphy fights for votes in effort to legalize recreational marijuana

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TRENTON -

Gov. Phil Murphy says the votes in the Legislature are not yet there to legalize recreational marijuana.

The governor said at news conference Thursday that he and legislative leaders are "making progress" convincing lawmakers that they should back the measure that's up for a vote Monday.

“We are close we are not there yet. We are making progress. But we have a ways to go,” Murphy said.

Democrats Murphy, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney support the measure that legalizes recreational cannabis for people 21 and over. The measure imposes a $42 per ounce tax, sets up a regulatory commission and expedites marijuana-related expungements.

RELATED: Legal weed may be in trouble as lawmakers struggle to secure votes 
RELATED: Police officers hold cannabis summit as legalization legislation advances 

Supporters of the legalization say that expungement is a major reason to legalize marijuana. They say that it could ensure that those who have been arrested and convicted on marijuana charges could get a second chance when it comes to getting a job again.

Others say that there is a racial component to legalization. Data shows that New Jersey makes 32,000 marijuana arrests a year, with black New Jersey residents being nearly three times as likely to be arrested as white residents.

“One of the talking points has been that marijuana is a gateway drug. And we agree - it's a gateway to county jail or state prison if you are black or brown,” says Richard Smith with the NAACP.

But some lawmakers have expressed their reluctance to support legalization, and the vote's outcome on Monday is uncertain. Critics say that it could actually lead to an increase of street sales of the substance, as well as an increase in traffic safety issues of more people drive while under the influence.

If the measure passes, New Jersey would become the 11th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize recreational marijuana.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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