Gov. Phil Murphy said legalized marijuana sales could boost New Jersey’s struggling economy, which needs new revenue sources to weather damage from the the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking on the Jim Kerr Rock & Roll Morning Show Tuesday, Murphy called legalization “an incredibly smart thing to do.”
“We’re not inventing marijuana,” he said. “It exists.”
The topic came up as the governor spoke about the ongoing financial crisis brought on by closures to stem the spread of the virus in March. The state, too, has had to spend additional funds in attempts to control the outbreak, and could borrow as much as $9.9 billion over the next year, if state lawmakers approve a massive proposal later this week.
“We still need federal cash assistance direct into the state,” Murphy, a Democrat, said. “That’s something that I hope that Congress will get to, sooner than later, that the president will sign. That’s another big slug that we need. We’ll look at revenues that we can potentially raise on our own.”
One host chimed in, suggesting money from a tax on cannabis purchases.
“Listen, as you probably know, I’ve been on that from day one,” Murphy said.
Multiple attempts in the Democrat-controlled state Legislature to pass a bill legalizing weed for those over 21 have faltered. Lawmakers eventually voted last fall to pose the question to the people.
Murphy acknowledge the role legalization could play in criminal justice reform, as police arrest Black people 3.5 times more often than white people in New Jersey for marijuana use, even though both groups use it at similar rates. The state Assembly last month voted to pass a bill that would decriminalization possession of up to two ounces of weed, but the Senate has not yet voted on it.
But, he also spoke of the financial and business sector gains the market could bring.
“It’s a job creator. It’s a tax revenue raiser,” Murphy said. “It checks a lot of boxes. I hope we’ll get there sooner than later.”
A 2016 report from New Jersey Policy Perspective estimated the state could bring in $305 million in sales tax if it legalized weed sales, should the state use a sliding tax scale that eventually lands at 25% and prices hold at around $350 an ounce, a common cost in the medicinal market. The ballot question currently proposed makes marijuana sales subject to a much lower state sales tax.
A recent poll showed six in 10 New Jersey voters said they would vote for marijuana legalization. But even if the measure passes in November, lawmakers will have to pass enabling legislation to establish an industry, mandating tax revenue and rules.
That could mean more delays, a common feature in the state’s efforts to expand cannabis access.
A new entity, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, would oversee the industry, as well as the existing medical marijuana program. A law passed last summer established the commission and called on a five person panel of appointees made by Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Speaker of the House Craig Coughlin to steer the commission and takeover the medical program by January 2020.
But only Sweeney had made his appointment by February. Progress on the commission has languished.
Without a commission or enabling legislation in place, many say legal weed sales will not begin until months, or maybe longer, after the vote. After the state legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2010, it took nearly three years for the first dispensary to open. Today, the state’s nearly 80,000 patients are still waiting for three dispensaries licensed in late 2018 to open their doors.