What’s Going on in New Jersey: An Update on Cannabis Legalization

The whispers about New Jersey legalizing marijuana began truly circulating last year. “The Garden State is ready to cultivate,” people said inside and outside of pot circles. The big reason for this was Phil Murphy. He made it well known on the campaign trail that cannabis was on the horizon and he was willing to be a catalyst for change.

So far, so good….

The New Jersey Governor is pushing for legalizationHe was recently sworn into office as the 56th governor of New Jersey and, again, made more pot promises. He spoke of economic restoration and remedying what he sees as both mistakes made by his predecessor as well as harmful policies mandated by Donald Trump and his administration.

He spoke of many things, including the public school system, free access to community colleges, small businesses, higher paying jobs, affordable housing, sick leave, women’s health, voter’s rights, and making sure that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. And, of course, he brought up marijuana too.

In regards to the latter, he vowed to raise 1.3 billion dollars in revenue through the legalization of marijuana (and the tax dollars that follow). But this idea isn’t welcome with open arms throughout the state.

Fears of Legalization

Some citizens are already worried about the implications of legalization, convinced that marijuana will ravage the streets and devastate neighborhoods. On Monday, a Baptist Minister said as much while Murphy was in attendance to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. It might have been awkward, but it isn’t likely to change Murphy’s mind – as mentioned above, marijuana was a major platform upon which he jumped into the governor’s office.

Still, the pews of churches aren’t the only hurdles Murphy is facing – he faces other opposition as well from both democrats and republicans. Six democrats have come forward to say that they plan to vote no on any legislation while others say that they’re ready for decriminalization, but not yet sold on full speed ahead legalization. The reasons for their concerns were listed as public safety (especially on roadways) and unintended social justice ramifications.

Others want a bill that better addresses the incarceration disparity among African American users and Caucasian users – they use at similar reported rates, but African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for that use. And one Democrat suggested that the bill needed changes before she’d consider giving it her nod of approval.

All of This Leaves the Future of the Leaf Uncertain

In the Senate, Democrats have the majority and by quite a bit – they own it by a 25-15 margin. But they need 21 votes to pass the bill. With six senators suggesting that their minds are already made – and two others on the fence – this legislation won’t pass on the Democrats’ power alone.

As we know, cannabis is a bipartisan issue, with people from both parties for and against it. But it’s not an even split – Democrats are more likely to vote for it than Republicans. With six (perhaps 8) democrats going against it, Mary Jane will need to get two (possibly four) members of the GOP on her side. It’s certainly doable – plenty of Republicans are in favor of weed – but it’s not a given.

One GOP senator, Chris Brown, is a possible ally; he’s gone on record to say that he has an “open mind” in regard to cannabis. Dawn Addiego, another Republican, is also believed to be leaning towards a “yes” vote while a couple Republicans, like their Democratic counterparts, are ready to jump on the decriminalization bandwagon but remain undecided about recreational availability.

Most of the Republicans are not undecided, however – they’re already set with a hard “no.”

What the People Say

A majority of New Jersey voters approve of legalizationThe people of New Jersey don’t appear as torn as their elected officials – a poll conducted in the fall of 2017 found that 59 percent of voters favored recreational weed (though 55 percent said they wouldn’t try it regardless of legal status). Republicans polled were the only ones where the majority did not support legalization – 53 were against it.

Regardless of what’s going on behind closed capitol doors, New Jersians appear to be moving forward as if cannabis legalization is coming and coming soon. On January 25th, a New Jersey Cannabis Symposium took place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. This symposium featured several companies and various groups advocating for marijuana legalization.

But it wasn’t merely a way to rally the THC troops. It offered practical business advice for those who hope to be a part of the industry. Among the topics covered were how to get licensed, how to write a marijuana business plan, how to find a location and a discussion of the tax details and red tape that comes with the territory. People who attended the event recieved advice from business owners, lawyers, legal experts, and others with experience working in the cannabis industry.

It’s more likely than not that New Jersey will legalize cannabis and soon. Murphy’s “stronger and fairer” New Jersey relies on it (to address criminal justice reform at the very least). But money, naturally, talks as well. Murphy knows this  and he’s using the tax revenue as a selling point. It’s hard to look at other legal states, and their billion-dollar kush kingdoms, and not want to follow suit.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.