The decision to legalize recreational marijuana in NJ is yours

More than 15,000 medical marijuana patients are registered with Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus. CEO Shaya Brodchandel says the program doubles almost every year and business might get a whole lot bigger.

“I think it’s not a question of if, but when,” Brodchandel said. “It’s a huge economic impact.”

On the general election ballot in November, voters will be asked if they want to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey. A Monmouth University poll from April shows 61% of residents are in favor, but advocates on both sides say it’s not a done deal.

“It’s really promising, but there’s a lot of work to do. Educating people that there is a ballot question is important,” said Bill Caruso with NJ United for Marijuana Reform.

“If I and others thought it was a lost cause, we wouldn’t have formed the organization to fight the question on the ballot,” Gregg Edwards from Don’t Let New Jersey Go to Pot said.

Supporters say legalization is an opportunity for the state to generate new revenue, especially at a time when the state is cash-strapped due to the pandemic.

Caruso meets daily with people in New Jersey and around the country who want to jump into the marijuana industry.

“It could be a client that has an interest in a, what they call a vertically-integrated operation — the grow, the processing and the retail all in one,” he said. “Some are just interested in the retail side. Some are interested in converting a bakery or a candy store.”

Opponents say legalization will harm teens because even though it will only be available to people 21 and older, there will be more access, similar to underage drinking.

“People who use it chronically, and the potential effect it could have on mental health issues,” said Edwards.

“The fact of the matter is many people are purchasing marijuana illegally.  There’s no reason to continue that or incentivize that,” Brodchandel said. “It has dangerous chemicals.”

For Sen. Ron Rice, who is a vocal opponent, it’s a matter of social justice. His main issue is that it won’t right the wrong of disproportionately locking up African American residents for low-level pot offenses. He also thinks they also won’t be the ones benefiting from a new recreational market. Edwards agrees.

“The Legislature could pass a bill to decriminalize it. They could pass it today and the governor said he would sign it. Why haven’t they? Because we’re afraid that might cause people not to vote for recreational use,” he said. “They know that it would solve the real problem.”

According to Caruso, decriminalization will still allow for stops and arrests.

“Decriminalization doesn’t do that, by the way. It continues the ability to allow for stops and arrests,” he said. “They are going to be micro-license opportunities available that will be scaled more toward the small operators that, frankly, will have more of ability to attract a minority investor into that type of effort.”

So what happens next? If the ballot measure passes, the Legislature will have to figure out details like tax rates and where to allocate the generated money.

“The discussion about where that money is reinvested in communities that have been most harmed by the war on cannabis, that’s a great discussion to be involved in right now,” Caruso said.

Brodchandel anticipates demand to be 10 times what he currently sees if plans move forward.

“Producing medicine, clean medicine, is really the key. Consistent clean medicine. So using that foundation of knowledge and experience is the best way to transition,” he said.

Brodchandel’s priority though is the medical patients of the state. Only excess products will go to the recreational side, should they be allowed to serve the entire market.