New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) has doubled down on his campaign promise to legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State.
"I am committed to working with you to get this passed this year," Governor Murphy said while introducing his budget to the New Jersey Statehouse yesterday. The fiscal plan includes $80 million in tax revenues that he expects to collect in 2019.
And he suggests that New Jersey could save nearly twice that amount by putting a stop to marijuana-related arrests.
“According to research, New Jersey spends upwards of $140 million per year adjudicating low-level marijuana possession offenses," Murphy noted during the address. “These resources must have a better use, whether to tackle the trafficking of illegal guns, provide stronger community policing, or to crack the back of our opioid epidemic, which was devastating our urban centers long before it made headlines.”
He added that legalization would also combat the racial disparity in the way New Jersey enforces drug laws. "[M]arijuana-related arrest rates are tilted three-to-one against African-Americans, even though rates of marijuana use are similar among races.”
But before righting the wrongs of prohibition, Murphy has to convince legislators to turn the dream of legalization into law. That won't be an easy task given opposition to marijuana reform in the Statehouse from both Republicans as well as Murphy's fellow Democrats. Right now, the legalization bill would fail due to lack of support if it were voted on today.
Murphy's team has a backup plan though. Advisors are encouraging him to consider making legalization law through a constitutional amendment, according to Brent Johnson and Susan K. Livio of NJ.com. Pursuing a constitutional amendment means asking New Jersey voters to cast ballots on the issue - similar to California, Colorado and other states that have repealed prohibition through ballot initiatives rather than relying on the state legislature to bring about reform.
But the backup plan could backfire. A recent poll from Farleigh Dickinson University says only 42 percent of New Jerseyans support legalization. So unless Governor Murphy's team finds a way to change the hearts and minds of lawmakers or voters on the issue, the marijuana tax revenues in his 2019 budget could go up in smoke.
Check out the cannabis portion of the budget address here.
h/t Marijuana Moment