December 30, 2018

Gov. Murphy Looks to Legalize Pot

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Eva Hale ‘20

If there is one thing Governor Phil Murphy needs to accomplish in order to satisfy New Jersey voters, it is to legalize marijuana.
“I'd like to think it's something we get done this year,” Murphy said on NJ News 12. He campaigned on that promise and after being elected last January, he called on the state legislature to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. So far, Murphy and the Democrats are looking at State Senator Nick Scutari’s bill, which would legalize marijuana with a 12 percent tax rate.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney agrees with Murphy. Sweeney said he believes he will have the votes to pass it in the state legislature; however, they are not there yet. A bill has yet to even be introduced.
“We'll get it passed,” Sweeney said. “We'll get the votes to get it passed. We've just got to present the bill first.”
Getting the votes may be an issue for Murphy and Sweeney. The New Jersey State Senate is split 25-15 toward the Democrats. None of those 15 Republicans will vote for legalization. In order to get enough New Jersey Democrats on board, they will have to appease Ron Rice, a longtime Democratic Senator from Newark who has blocked every proposed legalization bill so far. Rice, as the chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, has enough pull in the State Senate to take away the Democratic votes needed to pass a legalization bill.
Advocates of marijuana legalization, including Governor Murphy, argue that legalization will decrease the racial disparity in marijuana arrests.
“Pot laws are an excuse to go after black people,” Jay Lassiter, a columnist for and a leading advocate for legalization in New Jersey said. “I live in a place where people don’t get locked up for pot. If you’re an upper middle class white person, chances are if you get caught, you’re gonna get a pass.”
However, Rice disagrees. He says that, since marijuana will still be illegal for minors, there will still be a disparity in arrests. He also believes that legalization will increase foreclosures in Newark, since low-income people would spend their money on marijuana instead of rent or mortgage payments.
“They need to pay attention to our history, where we come from and how people continue to make money off of crisis and problems within our community,” Rice said.

“I’m worried about the children,” Stephen Reid, mayor of Point Pleasant and President of NJ RAMP (Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy) said. “In Colorado, they’re starting at an earlier age. Kids are smoking marijuana, eating edibles, or vaping at 12 years old now.
“That’s the youngest starting date in any state and that’s a real problem. And what’s happening is, black and brown children are going to jail at a faster rate now, because even though it’s legal, you still can’t have a certain amount of marijuana on you.”
Rice could have another motivator for holding up the legalization process, however. In the nine states which have legalized marijuana, the pot industry is worth billions of dollars. But that industry is overwhelmingly white – 81 percent of legal marijuana sellers are white. Many African American activist groups have discussed legalization, but on the provision that there are set-asides and government funding for minority-run marijuana businesses.
“Politicians and government officials used cannabis prohibition to target and criminalize black and brown people and throw them in jail,” N.A.A.C.P. representative Loretta Winters said. “We demand that a huge piece of the business that this legislation will generate should make up for all the pain, suffering and loss of revenue that our black and brown communities have been subjected to.”
Some say Rice will only agree to legalization if he gets set asides in the bill for minority communities.
Advocates of legalization also say the strict enforcement of marijuana laws haven’t stopped marijuana use.
“People are already smoking pot,” Lassiter said. “Legalization just means more education.”
Marijuana is still readily available to anyone who wants it and yet, we’ve spent approximately $3.6 billion a year on marijuana enforcement, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.
If it is legalized, then it can be regulated, it can be licensed and it can be taxed. In 2015, Colorado collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes. Sales were over $996 million. According to a study by New Frontier Data, if marijuana were to be legalized nationwide, it could generate 1.1 million jobs.
“I think that’s hogwash. It’s typical government speech,” Reid said. “In Colorado, all this money that was supposed to be given to schools and police haven’t found their way their. This issue, for the governor, for the President [of the senate] and the Assembly speaker, is all about money. It’s nothing but money. It’s not even about jobs, it’s about the money it’s gonna create for them.”
Reid said often state money that is supposed to go back into our communities doesn’t end up going to the right places.
“As a mayor of a town in New Jersey, I can assure you that a lot of times, we are promised by the state that money’s going to come our way, and it does not.”
For example, in Atlantic City, all of the money from gambling was supposed to fund schools, hospitals, or infrastructure. However, “very rarely did it go to the people who needed it,” Reid said.
Reid also thinks that the economic benefits promised by Murphy are unrealistic.
“Government always inflates numbers,” he said.
Murphy’s budget proposal depends on a total of $300 million marijuana taxes.
“You’ve got to sell a lot of marijuana product to fill the hole in the budget that they have in Trenton,” Reid said, adding that people just aren’t going to buy that much marijuana from state dispensaries. “The black market, which is strong now, will always increase. If you were buying your marijuana today, you’re going to continue buying that marijuana, because you’re not going to go to some store and get taxed on it when you can buy it for a cheaper price on the street like you’ve always done.”
Reid is also worried about another issue: “In Colorado, drugged driving has increased threefold. There’ve been more deaths, more accidents, and it’s caused some major problems. And New Jersey is not Colorado. We’re more densely populated, we’ve got more cars on the road, and those problems would be even worse in our state.”
To that, Lassiter said: “A law enforcement professional will be able to figure out whether or not someone is impaired or not. I have faith in our police.”
The bottom line is 62 percent of New Jerseyans are in favor of legal marijuana. 62 percent want tax benefits. 62 percent care about social justice issues. 62 percent want to create jobs in the state. But only 50 percent of people want marijuana to be sold in their towns, according to a study by Quinnipiac University and that says something about how people in this state feel about marijuana.

We are attracted to catchy buzzwords and benefits like “lower taxes” and “legal weed,” but we don’t want to pay the potential costs like increased drugged driving and more health risks.

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