The Garden State will be facing a budget shortfall through the end of the next fiscal year as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Can marijuana legalization help?
Registered voters in New Jersey are expected to vote in favor of adult-use marijuana legalization in November — but uncertainty surrounds the pending legislation.
“Cannabis advocates looking forward to creating an adult use regulated and taxed cannabis marketplace have reason to be cautiously optimistic as we approach the consideration of the issue in the form of a public question on the ballot for the voters in November,” says Charles Gormally, co-chair of the Brach Eichler LLC cannabis practice group.
Early polling has shown consistent support for the question. Nevertheless, Gormally said he expects to see a large influx of pro- and anti-pot advocacy on the question in the months leading to the election itself.
“Since the early 1970s, we have created a significant number of stake holders in the failed cannabis prohibition regime that continues to dominate federal and state law enforcement interest groups,” he says. “In addition, advocacy groups touting the false narrative of cannabis as a ‘dangerous gateway drug’ are well financed and powerful forces that oppose cannabis law modernization.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has been trying to get marijuana legalized for years.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, elected in 2018, said he would get a marijuana legalization measure passed within the first 100 days of his administration. In November 2019, N.J. lawmakers rejected the bill.
NJ RAMP — an affiliate group of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) — fought the measure then and pledges to continue that fight this year with the belief that recreational marijuana legalization outweighs the perceived social benefits.
SAM president Kevin Sabet spoke to Benzinga about the group’s opposition to the legalization effort in Trenton and praised the result of that campaign.
“The fact that legislators were forced to put this on the ballot speaks volumes to the effort of our supporters on the ground,” Sabet says. “The message against marijuana commercialization was and continues to be very powerful.”
Can Pot Offset New Jersey’s Budget Shortfall?
New Jersey is facing a $10-billion budget shortfall, according to State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio.
Last month, the New Jersey Department of the Treasury issued its first projections on the potential shortfall the Garden State will be facing through the end of the next fiscal year as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on a wide variety of economic assumptions, the State of New Jersey may be looking at a combined $10.104 billion revenue shortfall over the remaining months of Fiscal Year 2020 through the end of Fiscal Year 2021,” Maher Muoio said at the time.
Pot legalization won’t help solve that problem, says SAM’s Sabet.
“It amounts to less than 1% of state revenues in every legal state,” he says.
Colorado was the first state to approve marijuana legalization in 2012. From 2014 to April 2020, Colorado pulled in $1.3 billion in tax revenue from cannabis.
Today, 33 states allow medicinal marijuana use, while 11 states allow legal recreational use, and they generate tax revenue in their own right.
Sabet says these states have “routinely vastly overstated revenue projections and fail to account for the subsequent costs legalization will bring in the form of increased drugged driving deaths, increases in mental health issues, increased black market activity and other harms.”
Gormally, a legal cannabis advocate, doesn’t share the same sentiment and says the majority of voters won’t either.
“We expect these messages to resonate with some in New Jersey but not likely the majority,” Gormally says.
“At the same time we expect that out of state operators of successful cannabis businesses who are eyeing the largest prize in a cannabis portfolio — access to a core metropolitan marketplace — will be similarly motivated to invest in messaging and voter education to advance a YES vote outcome on the public question.”
Cannabis Narratives In The Garden State
Sabet maintains that “commercialization is not the way forward” and says SAM plans to continue encouraging “local communities to preemptively opt-out of legalization to send Big Pot the message that they are not welcome.”
But as election day nears, more polling data on the issue is expected to be released and drum up support for the pro-cannabis cause.
Brach Eichler is expected to release its own data about how these various messages are being received by the likely voters, Gormally says.
“Given the essential nature of the medical cannabis business and its importance of the improved access and supply, we believe this is an opportune time for New Jersey to address the multigenerational failure of leadership that has caused the expenditure of millions, and the imprisonment of generations of minority populations, by the failed policy of prohibition.”
Sabet says the ballot initiative is less about social justice and mired with “false narratives.”
“It is solely about profit for the industry that is overwhelmingly comprised of wealthy white males. In state after state that has gone down this road, grand promises of social justice and equity have failed to result in any tangible benefit for disadvantaged communities,” Sabet said.
“New Jersey’s experience will be no different.”
This article originally appeared on Benzinga.