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New Jersey to Vote on Legalizing Recreational Cannabis

Oct 26, 2020

On November 3, 2020, U.S. citizens are going to the polls to vote on a variety of topics, including the next president of these United States.  In New Jersey, besides that vote, residents will be faced with another question – “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

The Constitution being referred to in that question is the New Jersey Constitution, so a passing of this ballot measure would not impact the federal illegality of cannabis.  Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug on the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) drug schedules.  Schedule 1 drugs have no currently accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse.   

If you aren’t familiar with the DEA’s drug list, they have drugs classified into five schedules. Schedule 1 drugs include, in addition to cannabis, heroin, LSD and ecstasy, to name a few. For comparative purposes, as the schedule number goes up, the concern for drugs on it tend to go down, but are still considered a risk.  Schedule 4 drugs have a low potential for abuse and have a low risk of dependence.  They include Xanax, Valium and Ambien, to name a few. Schedule 5 drugs have a lower potential for abuse and include drugs containing a limited amount of a narcotics, such as certain cough medications that contain codeine.

The federal law probably won’t change for a number of years, regardless of which party wins the presidential race.  Depending on who is in the White House and who is the attorney general, the current federal government stance on cannabis is probably going to continue and allow state governments to decide their own cannabis laws and not to interfere with those state laws.

Many states are experiencing budget shortfalls, primarily as a result of COVID-19. A legalized cannabis market would help close some of those budget gaps by shifting some black market cannabis sales to the legal market, thus making them subject to tax and generating some state revenue.

Preliminary polls suggest the New Jersey measure will pass by a large margin.

The New Jersey measure would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the State of New Jersey and would become effective on January 1, 2021.  This would make New Jersey the first Mid-Atlantic state to legalize recreational cannabis.  The New Jersey result will push neighboring states to consider a similar measure. I don’t think the New York and Connecticut legislature will, for example, be happy to see their residents cross state borders to purchase product in a neighboring state, and pay that state’s sales and use taxes.

After going through a difficult time where some states considered cannabis an essential business and other considered it nonessential, and some states went further and considered medical cannabis essential and recreational cannabis nonessential, support for the legalization of cannabis might be stating to swell.  It should be noted that during this same period, almost all states considered liquor stores essential. 

But nothing is assured. While New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy supports the measure, there are others that do not. November 3 should be an interesting day for a lot of reasons.

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