As New Jersey Heads Toward Marijuana Legalization, New York May Soon Follow

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski

Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy doubled down on his goal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. During his first budget address since taking office, he said that he’d like to get a law on the books to do just that by the end of the year.

The statement comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the issue. Murphy, a Democrat, campaigned on legal weed last fall and later gained the support of New Jersey Senate President Steven Sweeney, who posited the ambitious goal of passing a bill as early as April. As that date approaches, Democrats in the Garden State still have a ways to go before they have enough support to pass a bill—currently two proposals are working their way through the legislature, one slightly more radical than the other.

The legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey seems imminent. And with pot legalization already set to go into effect in Massachusetts and Vermont on July 1, New York could very soon find itself in a precarious situation: one in which three of its five neighboring states have legalized cannabis.

“If New Jersey gets a leg up in terms of [marijuana] legalization, I really do think you’re going to see more cannabis crossing the Hudson River into New York,” says Cristina Buccola, a lawyer who owns a boutique law firm focused on the cannabis industry. “All prohibition does is lead to a black market.”

But New York is not as far behind our neighbors to the west when it comes to the sticky icky as one might think. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo commissioned a study to look into the feasibility of legalizing cannabis (which has not yet been funded), and his prospective Republican opponent next fall, Joel Giambra, has already come out in support of full-blown legalization. There is currently a bill bouncing around the New York State Senate, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, that would legalize the adult use of cannabis. But with a governor on the fence and a state legislature that’s in limbo, it could take another year before the bill’s passage can become a reality in Albany.