NJ lawmakers pass marijuana referendum for 2020 ballot

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New Jersey lawmakers have passed a proposed ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, putting the referendum before voters in 2020.

The Democrat-led Assembly passed the measure 49-24, with one abstention, while the Senate passed the question 24-16. The proposal need not go before Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, though he supports marijuana legalization.

"It's better than nothing. And you know we always thought that that was the default - was to get it on the ballot next year as a referendum,” Murphy said.

The governor campaigned on legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey and at one point wanted to get that done in his first 90 days. But Plan A of legalizing through a vote in the state Legislature failed, so now it's time for Plan B.

RELATED: It’s official: New Jersey voters will decide on marijuana legalization 

"I want this to happen and it must happen. And just because it's later than I want it, doesn't mean that I don't want it,” Murphy said.

The question asks voters if they'll approve recreational cannabis for people ages 21 and older. All sales of marijuana products would be subject to the state's sales tax, and towns could pass ordinances to charge local taxes as well.

"This is a Republican issue. This is a Democratic issue. It's a human issue, it's a people issue. So, if you look at the science, you look at the impact on society, you have to recognize cannabis prohibition has failed,” says legalization supporter Scott Rudder of the NJ CannaBusiness Association.

Rudder is a Republican former assemblyman turned cannabis advocate. He says that supporters are already gearing up for what could be an intense campaign for legalization.

"We don't want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars promoting this. This is something that should be a conversation that people have around the kitchen table,” he says.

Rudder says his organization will spend the next 11 months educating the public and laying the groundwork for an up to $4 billion weed economy in New Jersey. The Legislature and governor will have to fine tune regulations and set a tax rate.

"In the meantime, 600 people per week - so that'll be over 30,000 people by the time we get to this referendum - will be arrested for low-end drug crimes, most of which are marijuana,” said the governor.

What will happen to those cases is included in an expungement bill that passed the Legislature Monday pending the Murphy's signature.

Legal marijuana could bring in $200 to $300 million in revenue for the state depending on the tax rate.

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