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Gov. Phil Murphy, right, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin at the reorganization of the Middlesex County Democrats in New Brunswick on June 12, 2018. Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe

Murphy, Coughlin cagey on marijuana deal

Governor won’t say if he’s started whipping votes

By Nikita Biryukov, February 19 2019 12:46 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin were cagey Tuesday about a deal sources have told the New Jersey Globe Murphy and legislative leaders have reached on legalized marijuana.

“We had a very constructive meeting on Thursday,” Murphy said when asked about the deal at an press conference on an unrelated issue Tuesday. “I would say optimistic, but we’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line, but I think we’re all working really hard to get this done.”

Coughlin agreed with Murphy’s characterization and shared his optimism but likewise declined to comment on the deal.

“This is a seismic shift in public policy and the creation of a new industry. Those are both demanding items, and so we want to make sure we get it right. And we want to make sure we have a bill in place that people can support, and there’s an awful amount of work that goes in,” Coughlin said. “I tend to resist deadlines because the overarching consideration for me and for my caucus is to make sure we’re thorough and thoughtful about this and that we get a bill that’s in the best interests of New Jersey.”

Marijuana legalization has long been a goal of Murphy, Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney, though the governor and legislative leaders have butted heads in the past over the specifics of the legalization package.

Though, with a deal nearing finalization, lawmakers are faced with a different problem.

Even with the state’s Democratic leaders in agreement, there may not be enough votes to pass the legalization bill.

Late last year, lawmakers were unable to whip 21 votes in the Senate for marijuana legalization, and while State Sen. Dawn Addiego’s (D-Evesham) defection to the Democratic party may help the party reach the magic number in the legislature’s upper chamber, there’s still no guarantee that lawmakers will have the votes to pass the measure.

Murphy on Tuesday declined to say whether he had started whipping votes on marijuana.

“We’ll come back to you when we get more specifics,” Murphy said.

Sources have told the New Jersey Globe that Murphy has a list of undecided legislators to target before the legalization bill can move forward. On Friday, the front office and legislative leadership were counting votes.

Though most of marijuana legalization’s whip-related hurdles have come from the senate, it’s possible that similar issues will crop up once the bill hits the Assembly floor.

Like Murphy, Coughlin demurred when asked if there were enough votes to pass the measure in the Assembly, though he did say that the bill would have enough votes if it made its way to the Assembly floor.

“When we have the bill in place — the bill that we’re going to ask people to consider — we’ll have the best sense of knowing that,” Coughlin said. “For now, there are people who want to understand what’s in the bill and how it satisfies the goals that they’re trying to achieve. So, I’m confident that if we put the bill up for a vote, we’re going to pass it.”

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