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NJ governor wants legal weed by the end of 2019

NEW JERSEY — From campaign promise to official budget pledge.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared his intention in his inaugural budget address Tuesday to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana by next January.

That’s just about nine months away.

Seven years ago, Julio Valentin opened Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, the state’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary.

“I would still like to keep it the way I have it now, which is more spa-like," Valentin said. "I don’t want to look like a head shop."

Valentin said if the state legislature can agree on the terms of marijuana legalization, he would likely bring his product from the safe in Greenleaf’s back room to shelves in the front lobby of his prime location on Bloomfield Avenue.

“It starts with, again, legalization, regulation, and taxation," Valentin said, "and I’m all for it."

Murphy cited research data showing the Garden State currently spends upwards of $140 million a year on adjudicating low level criminal marijuana possession cases, adding that African-Americans are three times a likely to be connected to those cases even though usage rates are similar among other races.

“People’s lives are ruined. People, like, get in trouble right, 20 years old, our age, get in trouble for something minimal, and it affects you later in life,” Omar Ed Meshad said.

Murphy projects legalizing marijuana could generate $300 million in new state tax revenue, a possibility not lost on Kiara Carroll.

“I’m excited. This should have been happened," Carroll said. "You know how much money we could make on recreational weed?”

It was careful planning that paved the way for Valentin to open up the state’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary. If Murphy makes good on his pledge to legalize marijuana, Valentin – ever the entrepreneur – is already in a good position to take advantage of that.

He’s already planning to open up the Greenleaf Café right next door.