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Democrats’ big win in New Jersey could make the state the 9th to legalize marijuana

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

Phil Murphy's victory in New Jersey's gubernatorial race on Tuesday means Democrats now control the state government, from the legislature to the governor's mansion. And that's good news for one policy issue: marijuana legalization.

Murphy ran on legalizing marijuana — not just for medical uses, which is already legal in New Jersey, but recreational use as well. He proposed legalizing pot for anyone who is 21 or older.

"The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people's futures, so we will legalize marijuana," Murphy said after he won the Democratic primary. "And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just."

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The legislature seems ready. State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney plans to pass a legalization bill in the first 100 days of Murphy's administration, according to NJ.com.

"Assuming Murphy wins, it's full-steam ahead," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who sponsored a marijuana legalization bill, told NJ.com.

The Democrat-controlled legislature was receptive to legalization before Murphy was elected. But outgoing Gov. Chris Christie is very opposed to the idea, calling it "beyond stupidity."

A man wearing a shirt advocating legalized marijuana listens to Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speak to voters at a town hall campaign stop in Bow, New Hampshire, February 3, 2016.
Mike Segar | Reuters
A man wearing a shirt advocating legalized marijuana listens to Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speak to voters at a town hall campaign stop in Bow, New Hampshire, February 3, 2016.

If New Jersey does legalize, it could become the ninth state to do so — and the first to do it through a legislature instead of a ballot initiative.

That doesn't mean legalization is a sure thing. Other liberal-leaning states, such as Vermont and Rhode Island, have been talking about legalizing marijuana through their legislature for years — and they have yet to do it. While Gallup's survey found that 64 percent of U.S. adults support legalization, it seems difficult for legislatures to take up the details of a relatively thorny issue and pass sweeping reforms.

Still, Murphy's election at least shows that support for legalization isn't the electoral death knell that many politicians assumed it was in the past. Regardless of whether New Jersey actually legalizes pot in Murphy's first 100 days in office, that's certainly good news for supporters of legalization.