The release of the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act” gave a start to the new phase of debate around marijuana legalization in New Jersey. The bill provides exact figures concerning taxation and highlights the legal requirements for the cities of the state to host the marijuana industry. While many New Jerseans, same as the residents of Michigan and Montana, demonstrate their utmost excitement about the upcoming changes in legislation, neighboring states do not share their enthusiasm.
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The bill adoption is accompanied by a range of complexities: the act seems to affect racial minorities and create difficulties with clearing criminal records of minor offenders. Nevertheless, many believe that marijuana legalization will have a positive effect on the medical sector and will bring billions of dollars to the budget.
The debate around the need to legalize marijuana in New Jersey has been held for several years. Because the illegal market has substantially strengthened its position in the state, the idea of legalizing cannabis has gained more supporters these days (Fairman, 2016).
Democratic leaders of the state are convinced that removing restrictions on using recreational marijuana will help to increase public safety, save funds, improve racial justice, and optimize the existing judicial system. If the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act” is approved, the problem of inequality of the current drug policies will be finally resolved (Livio, 2018, para. 2). Knowing that smoking cannabis is no longer illegal would allow the local government to shift resources to the spheres that require them most.
The New Regulatory Act: Facts, Revenues, and Key Principles
The months of private negotiations between the democratic leaders of New Jersey finally resulted in the release of a blueprint underlining the key details concerning marijuana legalization. On November 21, 2018 “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act” was introduced to a wide audience (Livio, 2018, para. 2). The bill legally permits the use of one ounce of the substance by everyone aged 21.
The act contains strict directives regarding taxation: a 12% tax will be imposed on organizations producing and supplying marijuana, while an extra 2% tax will be raised for cities hosting this business (Livio, 2018, para. 3). In the meantime, it provides details regarding the expungement process for individuals who were previously arrested for carrying or distributing one once of the weed or less.
Clearing the criminal records of individuals with minor offenses is not, however, the only aspect this act touches upon. The amended bill text (S2703 version, which still waits to be adopted) states that the cities must have a population of at least 120,000 people to host marijuana manufacturers (Corasaniti, 2018). Also, it presupposes the division of living areas into consumption and non-consumption zones; smoking in undesignated zones will lead to punishment by fine. About the mentioned requirements, only Elizabeth, Paterson, Newark, and Jersey City are eligible to give a start to the industry development. A peculiar fact about the bill is that it replaces the term “marijuana” with a more neutral “cannabis” emphasizing the product’s legality.
The governmental structures have calculated that the sales of cannabis would result in substantial benefits for the state. According to a recent survey, more than 4% of the local population uses cannabis on an ongoing basis (McKoy & Rosmarin, 2016). In a legalized system, the revenues from marijuana sales could exceed $1.2 billion on an annual scale (McKoy & Rosmarin, 2016). Experts, however, provide rough figures since one cannot predict the actual situation following the bill adoption. The transition from an illegal to legal market requires time; one would need to introduce an effective price regulatory model for people to cease buying from ‘dealers’ and start purchasing legally.
Legalization of Marijuana: Situation in the Other States
A close study of the issue in the neighboring states (Pennsylvania and New York) has shown that a relatively small number of residents support New Jersey’s program. McKoy and Rosmarin (2016) approximate that no more than 10% of cannabis consumers express the will to join New Jerseyans in marijuana legalization.
In the meantime, Michigan and Montana demonstrate a relatively higher interest in the program implementation. A notable fact about these states is that they have the highest number of female supporters compared to other US regions. According to the survey results provided by Fairman (2016), “two-thirds of participants are male, but sex differences may be decreasing over time” (p. 72). This occurrence can be related to the fact that the legalization of medical marijuana has been sharply discussed there since 2009, and New Jersey’s situation laid the foundation for the new phase of the debate.
To analyze the outcomes of legalization, one should redirect attention towards Colorado and Massachusetts, the states that experienced its beneficial impact. As Axelrod (2019) admits, legalized marijuana in the given states resulted in higher revenues from taxes and formed a favorable environment for a small business to emerge. The new industry has allowed the companies in Massachusetts to create an average of 19,000 workplaces, and nearly the same amount (18,000) in Colorado (Axelrod, 2019). About this fact, the District of Columbia and ten other states have already permitted to use of recreational cannabis. In addition, 23 states have adopted laws legalizing medical marijuana. Legalizing cannabis in New Jersey was only a matter of time.
As was mentioned earlier, making marijuana legal involves clearing criminal records of many individuals with minor offenses. Corasaniti (2018) stresses out that marijuana laws in the state have affected minorities. According to recent studies, African-American residents of New Jersey demonstrate a three-time higher probability to be arrested on drug offenses compared to the representatives of other races (Corasaniti, 2018).
There are opinions that legislators have developed a biased attitude towards racial minorities due to this fact, which tends to influence their decisions regarding the crime expungement. Activists openly express their concerns about this matter and join public meetings to be heard by the government (Corasaniti, 2018). The difficulty of tossing out the previous convictions has injected uncertainty into the minds of citizens and some of the lawmakers. Many people question the law’s practicability as they no longer believe in the fairness of a judicial system (Corasaniti, 2018).
Another complication is attributed to the fact that the legalization of cannabis does not relieve police officers of the need to control the situation around the drug. An officer must still be capable of recognizing whether a driver is impaired by marijuana or not.
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Also, strict control over smokers requires one to constantly monitor non-smoking areas and punish the offenders. Considering this matter, a rearranged training program should be introduced for the police to maximize its efficiency in fighting future violations (Fairman, 2016). Also, the reform of both medical and pharmacy systems must be launched to guide clinicians in the matters of drug prescription (Fairman, 2016). One should know the symptoms, dosage, and possible side effects when addressing a cannabis treatment.
Marijuana legalization would be the source of a new income, which could be directed to fixing roads, creating parking zones, building recreational community centers, and so on. Analytics advise increasing taxes for the states that host marijuana businesses, such as Washington and Colorado, to raise millions of dollars in annual revenues (Axelrod, 2019). Marijuana legalization advocates trust in more efficient law enforcement and the criminal justice system, since police officers, judges, and prosecutors will have more time to focus on more severe criminal cases (Axelrod, 2019). In its turn, it will lead to a reduction in the inmate population of state prisons. It is also considered that marijuana legalization will rectify a profit surge for illegal drug dealers.
Advocates argue that with the legalization of marijuana, the industry would have a safer manufacturing system capable of tracking the quality of products supplied to consumers. They also believe that legalizing medical cannabis would benefit patients suffering from terminal or chronic illnesses (Sachs, McGlade, & Yurgelun-Todd, 2015). Medical workers support this claim stating that marijuana assists with the treatment of such disorders as epilepsy, AIDS, anorexia, cancer, migraine, glaucoma, post-traumatic conditions, and more (Sachs et al., 2015). The American Academy of Neurology expressed their expert opinion too: “medical cannabis is ‘probably effective’ for some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), including spasticity, central pain, spasms, and urinary dysfunction” (Sachs et al., 2015, p.735).
The legalization of cannabis in New Jersey has been accompanied by intense debate regarding the law’s applicability not only within the state, but in Montana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan as well. The example of Colorado and Massachusetts shows that legalizing marijuana may have an overall positive impact on the states’ economy creating a favorable environment for the industry growth. While there are some complications related to the law implementation (minority protests, the need for medical reform), the changes promise to reduce crime and improve the lives of regular citizens.
Axelrod, T. (2019). New Jersey governor renews call for legalizing marijuana. Web.
Corasaniti, N. (2018). How a push to legalize pot in N.J. became a debate on race and fairness. The New York Times. Web.
Fairman, B. J. (2016). Trends in registered medical marijuana participation across 13 US states and District of Columbia. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 159, 72-79.
Livio, S. K. (2018). Here’s how N.J is likely to legalize marijuana under new bill just unveiled by top democrats. Web.
McKoy, B., & Rosmarin, A. (2016). Marijuana legalization & taxation: Positive revenue implications for New Jersey. New Jersey Policy Perspective & American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, 1-14.
Sachs, J., McGlade, E., & Yurgelun-Todd, D. (2015). Safety and toxicology of cannabinoids. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 735-746.