Is New Jersey The Next State To Legalize Adult Use Cannabis?

By Aaron G. Biros
1 Comment

The new governor-elect, Democrat Phil Murphy, campaigned on legalizing cannabis and the legislature seems excited to get started.

Back in November, New Jersey elected Democrat Phil Murphy for governor, who ran on a campaign of legalizing adult use cannabis and using tax revenue from that for important government programs like education and pensions. According to CNN Money, NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney says he wants to vote on draft legislation and have it approved within 100 days of Gov. Murphy’s inauguration.

New Jersey’s Governor-elect Phil Murphy Photo: Phil Murphy, Flickr

That bill, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari back in May (the same Senator that sponsored the state’s now-implemented medical cannabis law), would legalize cannabis use, growing and sales, for those over the age of 21, while tacking on a hefty tax. The legislation, if it passes the vote and signed into law this spring, would also create a licensing framework and a “Division of Marijuana Enforcement,” the government body that would be tasked with regulating the industry.

Election victories throughout the state for Democrats means they now control the executive and legislative branches of the state’s government, opening the door for possibly legalizing cannabis within a year. This is a massive about-face for the state, previously controlled by Republican and Trump-supporter Chris Christie, a less-than-cannabis-friendly Governor who once called tax revenue from cannabis “blood money.”

Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D)

But the newly revived fervor over legalizing cannabis in New Jersey comes with its own hang-ups. For one, Governor Phil Murphy claimed this could bring up to $300 million in tax revenue, which is a bit of a pipedream in the short term. The state would need total cannabis sales to hit $1.2 billion to reach that amount of tax revenue, something New Frontier Data doesn’t expect would happen until maybe 2025.

Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, wrote an op-ed addressing Murphy’s campaign promises. Sinha says that Gov.-elect Murphy ran on legalizing cannabis “as a social and racial justice priority.” He argues that in order for New Jersey to legalize cannabis equitably, the legislation needs to have automatic expungement of previous cannabis-related criminal convictions, a provision for growing at home, fair regulations and community reinvestment of the tax revenue. On the surface, Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s bill introduced back in May of 2017 seems to have provisions in place to meet all of these requirements.

Comments

  1. Charles Gormally

    This is indeed a very unique time in New Jersey. We are poised to consider being the first state to organize a legal cannabis marketplace through the legislative process. It is an opportunity to get it right, learn from other state’s experiences, and position the state to benefit financially. While previous models have relied upon taxation on sales to drive state revenues, New Jersey has the opportunity to gain financially in a meaningful way before its first legal sale occurs. What is required now is fearless and innovative creativity in how the New Jersey marketplace should be organized. While the Governor elect has committed to a swift path to approval, New Jersey politics, and particularly home rule concerns, will likely delay the legislative approval a bit. Knowing this, we hope New Jersey utilizes this time to be more creative and realistic in developing the marketplace.

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