Earlier this month Phil Murphy won the gubernatorial race in New Jersey, defeating Republican candidate Kim Guadagno by a substantial margin. One of the main things that Phil Murphy campaigned on was a pledge to legalize cannabis in New Jersey. After winning on Election Day Phil Murphy doubled down on that pledge, stating that he wanted to see cannabis legalized in New Jersey within the first 100 days after he takes office.
Cannabis policy and enforcement in New Jersey has been rough. In New Jersey, African Americans are arrested for cannabis at three times the rate of Caucasians according to an ACLU New Jersey analysis. Distribution of less than 1 ounce of cannabis in New Jersey carries a penalty of 1.5 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. The same is true for possession of any amount of cannabis over 50 grams, which is not that much cannabis when it’s brick weed. Cultivation of any amount of cannabis results in a mandatory sentence of no less than 3 years in prison and can be as much as 25 years in prison for over 50 plants.
New Jersey’s current Governor, Chris Christie, is one of the biggest cannabis opponents in the country. One of my favorite moments of 2017 was seeing a pro-cannabis candidate (Phil Murphy) replace outgoing Governor Chris Christie. Just because Phil Murphy was elected Governor of New Jersey does not automatically mean that cannabis will become legal in New Jersey during his term. I am confident that he will work as hard as he can to keep his campaign pledge, but it’s politics, so it’s entirely possible that he could abandon the idea.
Even if Phil Murphy gives a proper amount of time and energy towards pushing for legalization, such a public policy change requires that either a bill be passed by New Jersey’s Legislature, or the legislature refer the issue to voters during an election. Some concerns about legalization have been expressed by New Jersey lawmakers recently, and considering how slow the political process can be at times, it’s quite possible that New Jersey’s Legislature either drags its feet on legalization or outright opposes it.
As time goes by hopefully that proves to not be the case. 65% of New Jersey voters support marijuana legalization according to recent polling, and with a favorable Governor, legalization is very likely to occur in New Jersey next year. Especially considering that Maine and Massachusetts have already legalized on the East Coast, and Vermont is looking like it has a good chance to legalize via legislative action in 2018. Many other states in the region are looking at legalization, which all adds to the pressure for New Jersey to get out in front.
An estimate from a year ago projected that New Jersey could make 300 million dollars annually in cannabis industry tax revenue. That is not an unrealistic estimate given that Colorado is set to make well over 200 million dollars in taxes and fees from its regulated marijuana industry and New Jersey has nearly 3.5 million more people than Colorado. But every day that goes by impacts New Jersey’s potential cannabis revenue.
The first state to implement a taxed and regulated system on the East Coast is going to reap the most rewards in my opinion due to surrounding consumers flocking to said state. Massachusetts is going to be the first to do so short of another state pulling off a miracle. As each subsequent state implements a regulated cannabis industry, the ‘East Coast cannabis industry pie’ will get cut into progressively smaller slices. If states like Connecticut and New York legalize cannabis first, New Jersey’s industry will be dramatically affected.
Regardless of the industry benefits, New Jersey needs to legalize cannabis because it’s the right thing to do, which is a point that incoming New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made this week, per NJ.com:
“There are concerns that people have that I accept and I understand,” he said. “But it’s clear as a bell to me what the right way going forward - given the alternatives.”
Will New Jersey legalize cannabis in 2018? I think so. What legalization in New Jersey will look like is yet to be determined. All other states that have legalized cannabis thus far have done so via a citizen initiative. New Jersey does not have a citizen initiative process, so all roads to legalization go through New Jersey’s Legislature. It’s likely that New Jersey’s legalization model will be much more restrictive than other states that have previously legalized cannabis.
What do Weed News readers think? Do you think that New Jersey will legalize in 2018? If not in 2018, when, if ever? For those that think that New Jersey will legalize cannabis, what do you think that legalization model will look like? Will home cultivation be allowed? What will possession limits be? I look forward to reading your comments!