Four northeast Democratic governors are considering marijuana and vaping regulations that cross state lines.
At a meeting in Manhattan on Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined with the governors of New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut to look into ways they can work together to address both vaping-related health concerns and regionally legalize marijuana.
“Forty to 45 million residents are represented by the four governors,” said Murphy. “Doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious ways is good for the entirety not just our states but our residents. As we see it through the New Jersey lens, we have got an exploding vaping reality within youth which has become an enormous challenge health and beyond. And then secondly, we have a shocking gap of persons incarcerated in our system along racial lines and it’s almost entirely due to low-end marijuana offenses.”
The summit comes as the number of deaths and illnesses connected to vaping continues to rise across the country.
The New Jersey Department of Health now reports 20 confirmed and 15 probable cases of vaping-related illness, including one death. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed 1,300 cases and 26 deaths.
Following a closed-door meeting, the governors agreed to consider regulations and a possible ban on the sale of flavored vape products as a way to reduce use among youth. Licensees who sell to individuals under 21 would face increased penalties and advertisements that target minors would be restricted.
Gov. Murphy had previously announced he favors a ban on flavored electronic smoking devices on the advice of a task force he convened last month to look into health concerns related to vaping.
None of the four states have yet legalized recreational marijuana, but on Thursday, officials agreed to a set of guidelines to follow when considering legalization. They include:
- Enacting similar tax rates for cannabis products to ensure price stability across the regional market;
- Ensuring equitable access to the marijuana industry, especially for minorities who have been disproportionately affected by its prohibition;
- Implementing social justice reforms, including expedited expungements or pardons; and
- Creating a public campaign about the health and safety consequences of cannabis use; and
- Standardizing Drug Recognition Expert training and evidence collection.
Recent attempts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have all failed to gain traction, while Pennsylvania lawmakers just introduced a legalization bill Wednesday.
New Jersey lawmakers plan to vote on legalization later this year. If a legislative measure fails again, the question could go to voters in 2020.
While the future of the region’s legal pot industry remains hazy, the governors’ eventual plan is to enact similar laws to make purchasing and enforcement a regional affair rather than a patchwork of regulations.