Voters in this year’s New Jersey governor’s race are not just picking Chris Christie‘s successor.
Their choice will dictate whether or not marijuana for recreational use will be legalized in New Jersey.
Electing Democrat Phil Murphy means New Jersey would soon join eight other states in legalizing marijuana for people 21 and older and creating what is predicted to be a multibillion-dollar industry. He’s promised to sign a legalization bill into law within the first 100 days of his term. Democrats who control the state Legislature appear willing.
Murphy said he sees legalizing marijuana as a solution to the social justice problem of higher arrest and conviction rates for blacks than white.
“That is the reason we want to legalize marijuana — not because we can make money off of it. That’s the last reason,” Murphy said during the debate last week.
A victory for Republican Kim Guadagno means you still won’t be able to legally smoke marijuana.
But pot possession would be decriminalized — an offense punishable by a fine instead of incarceration. Guadagno also said she would shed some of the Christie-era regulations to improve access to medical marijuana program.
“There is a less intrusive way to solve the social injustice problem than legalizing drug dealers,” Guadagno said at the debate. “I am wholly opposed to legalizing marijuana. Having said that I, do believe we can decriminalize it.”
“I also would expand the medical marijuana program,” she added. “It’s onerous, it’s hard to work with, it’s not available to those who it should be made available to.”
Either way there is no going back to the status quo — not with the eager array of marijuana business associations that have formed to persuade lawmakers that New Jersey must jump on board with the economic opportunities a broader acceptance of marijuana offers.
NJCANNA PAC, a political action committee spun-off from the 10-month-old NJ Cannabusiness Association, donated $4,300 to Murphy’s campaign, according to state Election Law Enforcement Commission finance records.
Cannabusiness board member Michael Ray Figler, the CEO for Intra Capital Holdings, LLC, a commercial and residential real estate company, also independently donated $1,000 to Murphy’s primary campaign, state campaign finance records said.
Scott Rudder, a former state legislator and the president of the Canabusiness Association, said the organization does not have plans to endorse a candidate despite their strong support for a legal pot market, which Murphy backs.
But the group also sees the bright side should Guadagno win, he said.
“We know no matter who wins in November, there will be an expansion of the medical cannabis market to provide greater access to patients, and decriminalization. We are confident that will occur,” Rudder said.
Cannabusiness’ perspective includes that of board member Andrew Medvedovsky, a neurologist in Camden County who has referred some 3,000 patients to the medical marijuana program — more than any other physician in the state, according to a report in Philly.com.
New Jersey’s medical marijuana program “has been overly regulated from the beginning,” Rudder added. “People have had to fight tooth and nail to get (qualifying) conditions added, and overall it has been an unnecessarily burdensome process.”
Meanwhile, two other nonprofit pro-legalization advocacy groups have met with the candidates, including members of the state Legislature who all face re-election this November. Neither one is a PAC and cannot make donations. But representatives from both groups say they think their private meetings and public discussions they’ve organized are making an impact as the contours of a cannabis industry takes shape.
Pete Cammarano, a founder of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, a nonprofit trade group established earlier this year, said the group sees its role as being “helpful, so when (legalization) moves forward, we have a well-regulated and vibrant industry.”
Cammarano, a longtime lobbyist and former chief of staff to Gov. Richard Codey, sits on the board with Christopher Beals, president and general counsel at Weedmaps, what has been described as the Yelp for pot dispensaries.
New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform helped produce a often-cited report last year that estimated the legal marijuana market is worth $1.3 billion in New Jersey and could generate $300 million in state tax revenue.
Beyond the economics, New Jersey United is promoting legalization as an alternative to jailing people caught with pot — an outcome that falls disproportionately on blacks and Hispanics, said Bill Caruso, one of the group’s founding members.
Some of the groundwork involves meeting with mayors, some of whom are intimidated by the idea a grow facility or dispensary would lay down roots in their community, Caruso said. His organization is trying to prevent the reaction in Massachusetts, where many local officials passed ordinances to block the recreational marijuana industry from settling in.
“We are very much involved in the education side of this,” said Caruso, who also sits on the board of Cammarano’s business organization.
Elected officials have grown more receptive to these conversations as the polls show growing public support. A Quinnipiac University survey released last month found 57 percent of New Jerseyans favor legalization.
“Most people are waking up and seeing the world did not end” in states where marijuana is legally for sale, Caruso said. “The public is coming around. … Senior citizens are the largest demographic trying cannabis. The culture change is wide.”
Source: 420 Intel – United States