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Rich Zeoli Column: Phil Murphy's 'Pot' Problem

By Rich Zeoli

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Adults only of course, though in NJ you can't buy a pack of cigarettes until you are 21. Assume same goes for weed. He was elected on this position, among others, so it's not a surprise he is already budgeting for the expected tax windfall that legal pot has brought to states such as Colorado.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for legalizing marijuana at the state level. Yeah, yeah, I know there are lots of risks, same with booze. I just like maximizing individual freedom so sue me.

But that's not the point of this piece.

I know, I know, some people say pot is a gateway drug and we have an opioid crisis and how could you legalize it right now. And I know, others say pot is the answer to the opioid epidemic.

That's not the point of this piece.

I know what you are thinking. Accidents are going to soar. Police can't detect pot like alcohol. People will die. Or maybe you are thinking that this will cut down on drunk driving since most people would get high at home versus at a bar or restaurant.

Not the point of this piece.

Why not you ask? Because Phil Murphy doesn't have the votes to pass a bill legalizing recreational marijuana.

There is no point in debating any of these issues because the Democrat governor, who campaigned on this issue and won, doesn't have the votes of the Democratic legislators to pass legalized marijuana.

The first rule of politics is you have to count votes. If you don't have the votes you can't win. Period. It's that simple. But this is an even bigger problem for Murphy. This issue highlights his lack of a governing coalition within his own party. It shows that he doesn't have control of the Democrats who have the majority in both chambers of the New Jersey legislature.

Say what you will about Chris Christie. Few Republican legislators would dare say no to him even after Bridgegate when his presidential ambitions faded.

This is going to be an epic, humiliating loss for Murphy at at time when his political power should be at its peak. If he can't do this now, in a state like New Jersey, what can he pass?

This highlights a major power struggle within the New Jersey Democrat party and my guess is that the South Jersey faction is going to hold a vice grip on Murphy, just because they can. They have the power so why not maintain the power? While Christie could reap the benefits of advocating for an issue, and then blaming the Democrats if it couldn't pass, Murphy can't do the same. His weakness will be further exposed if he highlights the fact that it's party standing in the way. And not just on pot. On several of his progressive utopian ideas like the so called Millionaires tax, $15 minimum wage, and expanding the number of goods eligible for sales tax.

Of course, the political winds could change at a moment. He is, after all, the Governor of New Jersey, an office that is among the most powerful, if not the most powerful, in the nation. He has thousands of appointments to fill and enormous power to wield. But the real question is, will he play hardball? So far, the bet being made by Senate President Steve Sweeney and others, is that Phil Murphy plays softball.

P.S. No point debating me on legalizing marijuana. Phil Murphy doesn't have the votes. That's the point of this piece. But as always, your comments are welcome.

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