After the official launch of adult-use sales in Nevada on July 1st, the rumor mill is already back up and running as to which state will legalize next. As the New York Times reported on Friday, July 7th, that next state could be New Jersey, marking a potential major shift in the state of legalization efforts on the east coast.
The hope for New Jersey legalization comes on the heels of officially announced support from Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Philip D. Murphy. In November, Murphy will square off with Republican, and current Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, to fill the seat of outgoing Governor Chris Christie. Christie has been vocal in his opposition to any legalization measures, and was also found to be the most unpopular governor in the United States in an April poll. The Democrat-controlled state legislature hopes that with a changing of the guard, the time will soon be right for a quick legalization effort. In anticipation, Democratic state senator Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill in May that would legalize, regulate, and tax adult-use cannabis sales. If New Jersey manages to pass the bill, it would likely be the first state to approve an adult-use initiative without using a public referendum. In May, Vermont adult-use legislation made it all the way to the governor’s desk but was vetoed by Republican Governor Phil Scott.
With the imminent opening of adult-use sales in each state, each market’s debut brings some sort of uncharted territory—for Nevada it is Las Vegas tourism revenue, for California it is the sheer size of the market, for Maine and Massachusetts it will be the debut of legal adult-use cannabis on the east coast. But each of the eight states that have currently approved adult-use programs are either “out there” or “up there”. If New Jersey manages to pass an adult-use bill, legal cannabis will soon be “right there”, next to the New York metropolitan area and in the middle of the I-95 Corridor. That level of potential interstate commerce, still very much illegal under Federal law, is going to push some real questions to the forefront of national policy conversations. It will be increasingly unlikely that the Trump Administration will avoid establishing any consistent policy toward adult-use cannabis programs, and could force a policy change, for better or worse.
Luckily, the positives for New Jersey, especially in terms of state revenues, are likely to be significant. One study last year estimated that a 25% tax on sales would produce $300 million in annual revenues for the state, and an A.C.L.U. study estimates that New Jersey currently wastes $143 million per year to enforce marijuana possession laws. For Democratic candidate Murphy and other advocates, it is not just increased access to cannabis factoring into supporting legalization, but the potential to save money and implement broader criminal justice reforms. For a state whose most recent controversy was a much-loathed governor, sun-tanning on a beach that he himself shut down—it’s nice to imagine that his replacement could soon bring about increased revenue, criminal justice reform, and a great reason to visit New Jersey beaches next summer.