If watching HBO's Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014) has taught you anything, it's that alcohol prohibition was a boon for New Jersey's Atlantic City - the costal resort town that thrived in the 1920s as a bastion for illegal alcohol, gambling and other vices. Now two state politicians say that repealing marijuana prohibition could save the struggling city and solve the state's financial woes.
Today, State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) plans to introduce a bill that would create a ballot question asking voters to approve the cultivation, sale and recreational use of marijuana in Atlantic City. The bill - named "Promoting Opportunities for Tomorrow" or POT - would only apply to AC. But Gusciora made his support for statewide legalization clear when he referred to marijuana prohibition in the bill as "archaic" and noted that it "has had a disparate, harmful impact on minority communities."
The bill claims that legalization would save Atlantic City from financial peril caused by the decline in tourism.
"Unfortunately, you people from Pennsylvania are no longer coming into our state for the casinos," Gusciora told Victor Fiorillo of Philly Mag. "People aren't coming from Delaware or New York either, because there are plenty of casinos there."
"By passing recreational marijuana legalization, we can attract a whole new crop of tourists, whether you're from the Woodstock generation or in your 20s. Either way, you win."
Recreational marijuana use is currently illegal throughout the northeastern United States, so turning Atlantic City into a marijuana oasis could attract tourists. Gusciara is convinced it will help the city prosper now and for many years ahead.
"A well-designed and heavily regulated marijuana industry would move Atlantic City's economy into the 21st century and provide extreme economic benefits to a new generation of Atlantic City residents and business interests, including existing hotels and casinos," he wrote in the bill.
Statewide legalization is also in the works
Gusciora has an ally in the state's upper chamber, where Senator Nicholas Scutari (D) has announced that he plans to introduce a legalization bill before the legislative session ends in December. As with Gusciora's motion, the main opponent to Scutari's legislation is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie , who has previously vowed to veto any recreational marijuana bills.
But Scutari isn't concerned about Christie because time is on his side.
"Starting something of this complex nature and doing it right takes some time," he said during a press conference June 14. "But we're going to move the ball down the field. We're going to have more hearings and we're going to have votes and we need to work on my colleagues because not everyone is there yet, not everyone is comfortable."
Legalization advocates looking past Christie
By the time those hearings and votes have been conducted, the state will be preparing to elect a successor for Christie, who can't run for a third term in 2017. And Scutari believes that the state's economic woes will make the incoming governor more receptive to legalizing recreational marijuana use.
"When you tell an incoming administration - with the myriad of financial problems that we have with respect to pension shortfalls and a systemic shortfall every year in our budgetary process - and we talk to them about a quarter to a half of a billion dollars a year in direct tax revenue and savings in law enforcement efforts, I don't know how you don't open your mind to that."
Those figures are Scutari's estimates on how much the Garden State stands to make from a legal recreational marijuana industry. When asked if legalization would cause the use of cannabis in New Jersey to spike, Scutari said cannabis is already widely available through the black market.
"Yes there's marijuana in New Jersey, believe it or not," he scoffed. "Anybody want to take a walk and see how quickly we can get it?"