- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s governor and legislative leaders reached an agreement over key sticking points in their effort to legalize recreational marijuana, though the measure is still being worked on, the legislator taking the lead on the issue said Wednesday.

Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari said the leaders agree on a $42 per ounce tax rate on recreational marijuana, along with the makeup of a commission to regulate the substance.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been before,” Scutari said in a phone interview.

“If I thought we were all done, I’d be the first person calling a press conference,” he added.

The commission and tax rate were key sticking points. Murphy called for a 25 percent tax rate while Senate President Steve Sweeney sought a 12 percent levy.

Under the proposal, the five-member commission would see the governor appoint three members directly. Scutari says the Senate president and speaker would likely appoint the other two.

It’s the latest development in the Democrat-led state government’s effort to become the 11th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize cannabis for adults. Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin all agree on legalization broadly, but negotiations have dragged into the governor’s second year.

Word of the agreement broke over the weekend, but leaders’ spokespeople declined to discuss it at the time. Scutari said once word of the deal got out he determined not to keep the details private. He said more details are being finalized and votes being counted.

A final vote has not been set and the legislative language has not yet been made public.

Murphy didn’t offer specifics on how negotiations were going Tuesday, except to say he met with leaders last week. He said it is “complicated” because the state is “standing up an entire industry from scratch.”

“I think I would say (we are) optimistic but we’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line,” Murphy said.

The development comes as new polling shows the public is mostly supportive of legalizing recreational in New Jersey.

A Monmouth University poll out Monday found that 62 percent support legalization. The poll survey 604 adult residents and had a margin of error of plus or minutes 4 points. That’s up from 59 percent in a Monmouth from April.

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