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New Jersey Could Legalize Weed Next Month

The one stumbling block remaining is a debate over how much of a cut the state should get.

CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS/NewscomCARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS/NewscomNew Jersey could become the 10th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and it could do so before the end of next month.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) tells Politico that there is enough support in the state legislature to pass legalization, even though the details are still being worked out and a bill has yet to emerge. Despite that lack of clarity, it seems like Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), and Gov. Phil Murphy are generally in agreement that recreational legalization and an expansion of the state's six-year old medical marijuana program should be top priorities for the fall.

"Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney says to Politico, seemingly an indication that he believes some Republicans will end up supporting the proposal too.

That won't necessarily be needed, since Democrats hold a 10-seat majority in the state Senate and control more than two thirds of the state Assembly. But GOP support for the bill would be a further indication that prohibitionist policies are losing their grip. A recent Monmouth University poll found that a majority of the state's voters back full legalization, and that 60 percent of them (and 50 percent of Republicans) believe legalization will boost the state's economy.

The last stumbling block to legalization may be a question about how to tax marijuana sales. Murphy, who promised last year to legalize marijuana if elected governor, used his first budget address to call for a 25 excise tax (on top of the state's 7 percent sales tax) on weed sales. The levy would generate an estimated $60 million annually. But Sweeney tells Politico that he'd favor a lower rate.

"If you tax it too high, you incentivize people to use the black market because you've raised the price too high," he says.

Sweeney has point. High marijuana taxes in Washington state have inflated the price of pot and kept the black market alive. The combined sales and excise tax of 32 percent would make New Jersey's marijuana taxes a bit higher than similar taxes in Colorado (which has a 15 percent excise tax and 15 percent sales tax), California (a 15 percent excise tax), Massachusetts (a 10.75 percent excise tax), and Oregon (a 17 percent excise tax), but lower than the 37 percent excise tax charged by Washington state. (Other states with legal recreational weed—including Alaska and Maine—apply taxes by weight at the wholesale level, making it difficult to compare to retail taxes.)

It's worth noting, as Murphy often did on the campaign trail last year, that legalization will allow the state to save some serious cash no matter how much revenue the new taxes generate. New Jersey currently spends about $140 million annually prosecuting some 24,000 low-level marijuana arrests a year.

Regardless of how it shakes out, the debate over how to tax legal sales of marijuana is a welcome one, since it signals a full retreat by the forces of prohibition. It was left on the committee room floor during the heated budgetary debates of New Jersey's spring legislative session, but now legalization may be just weeks away.

Photo Credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Just Say'n||

    Legalize weed or not, none of that is going to fix the fact that NJ's finances are teetering on the brink and they're suffering from a large population exodus.

    The only thing that makes NJ look good is IL

  • Juice||

    NJ has the highest state tax burden in the country (I think) and they still can't get their shit together. So of course a new source of tax revenue won't help anything except to hire more Mercedes-driving public servants.

  • Just Say'n||

    The highest property tax in the country. I'm not sure if their top income tax rate is the highest in the country, but it's certainly above average.

    Yeah, they suck at so much

  • Hugh Akston||

    Somewhere Chris Christie is crying into a jumbo tub of vegetable shortening with a spoon sticking out of it just thinking of all the kids who aren't going to die from seizures now.

  • perlchpr||

    That's a beautiful* image, sir.

    *for very specific values of "beautiful", but still.

  • Dillinger||

    and still, it will suck to be in New Jersey.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    But it's New Jersey. Not worth it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'd rather be sober in Pennsylvania than high in New Jerksey!

  • Jerryskids||

    It's worth noting, as Murphy often did on the campaign trail last year, that legalization will allow the state to save some serious cash no matter how much revenue the new taxes generate.

    Save it, like in a lock box? While legalizing marijuana is a fine and glorious thing for liberty, the idea that states are legalizing it just because they're getting desperate for cash is a Very Bad sign. You have to admit there's never been any principled argument for criminalizing the devil weed in the first place or you have to admit your principles can be bought. Start selling your principles and one day you wake up and you're Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. What's the difference between telling people "We'll let you buy this stuff as long as you give us some money" and telling people "We'll let you keep the stuff you bought as long as you give us some money"?

  • Just Say'n||

    It doesn't even bring in that much cash. The amount of revenues that CO has collected off of recreational marijuana sales is less than 1% of its General Fund budget and a rounding error in relation to its total budget. Even the cost savings are arguably insignificant.

    It's just a profoundly bad argument all the way around

  • Just Say'n||

    For perspective, NJ's total budget is roughly $50 billion. Cost savings of $140 million is a fart in the wind, especially since you continue to run a deficit representing 2% of your total budget

  • General_Tso||

    A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "Save it, like in a lock box?"

    No, Save it as in reducing spending on enforcement and prisons.

  • Juice||

    Come on, Maryland. Get your shit together.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Don't worry, folks. We'll find a way to screw this up.

  • Rich||

    there is enough support in the state legislature to pass legalization, even though the details are still being worked out and a bill has yet to emerge.

    *** facepalm ***

  • Number 2||

    Not to rain on the parade here, but there is a disturbing aspect to the "legalization" of pot that New Jersey is considering. To me, it bears too strong resemblance to New Jersey's previous "legalization" of gambling. In each case, at least on the supply side, we conduct our issue remained very much illegal, except for a state-run or state-sponsored monopoly that allowed favored producers to obtain monopoly profits from which the state siphon off its cut. In each case, a law that had been justified as protecting the public from an allegedly "harmful" activity became instead a form of economic protectionism.

    It makes me nervous when I see my email inbox filled with notices from politically connected democrat law firms posting about their new "cannabis law practices." I don't have to be a genius to see what's coming. Just like the politically connected democrat law firms that dominate the casino law practice in Atlantic City.

    Further, Sweeney's comments about under selling the black market are more than offset by Murphy's pipe dream claims about the millions upon millions of dollars pot will produce for the state and the goodies it will allegedly allow him to give to his favorite constituencies.

  • Number 2||

    Geez. The fifth line in the first paragraph should say, "the conduct at issue remained very much illegal..."

  • vek||

    Legalizing weed: The single decent thing Democrats have supported in my entire lifetime.

    I don't even smoke, so don't care beyond the academic level and that freedom is good...

  • STRAMBOTIK||

    PIECEMEAL LEGALIZATION OF POT PREVENTS ITS COMPREHENSIVE REGULATION
    America's Invisible Pot Addicts, by Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic, Aug 20, 2018
    ...
    In terms of long-standing risks, the lack of federal involvement in legalization has meant that marijuana products are not being safety-tested like pharmaceuticals; measured and dosed like food products; subjected to agricultural-safety and pesticide standards like crops; and held to labeling standards like alcohol. (Different states have different rules and testing regimes, complicating things further.)
    Health experts also cited an uncomfortable truth about allowing a vice product to be widely available, loosely regulated, and fully commercialized: Heavy users will make up a huge share of sales, with businesses wanting them to buy more and spend more and use more, despite any health consequences.
    "The reckless way that we are legalizing marijuana so far is mind-boggling from a public-health perspective," Kevin Sabet, an Obama administration official and a founder of the nonprofit Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told me. "The issue now is that we have lobbyists, special interests, and people whose motivation is to make money that are writing all of these laws and taking control of the conversation."

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