Marijuana groups launch campaigns to reach voters

In November, New Jersey voters will get to decide whether or not marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Axel Owen is the campaign manager for NJ CAN 2020, a coalition made up of advocacy groups and members of the cannabis industry who are campaigning for legalized marijuana for people 21 and over.

“To basically give them the opportunity to buy it in a controlled facility that is regulated and safe from seed for sale. That we actually know what exactly you’re getting, the potency, that there’s no contamination,” Owen said.

But under COVID-19 restrictions, going door to door isn’t an option.

“Because of COVID and the concerns, especially with people self-isolating, we made the decision real early to go to a much more digital aspect of our campaign. We’re going to be doing a lot of digital ads, we’re doing to be doing a lot of things on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to engage people at their homes,” Owen said.

Amol Sinha is executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey, which is part of the campaign’s coalition. He says legalizing cannabis could help solve racial justice issues.

“If we do it right, we will see an industry that is diverse, and looks like New Jersey, and you don’t need a million dollars and corporate backing to join,” he said. “One of the main ways we can stop bad outcomes, especially for people of color, and stop those interactions that lead to injury or death is to limit unnecessary police interactions with people on the street, and one way to do that is to legalize.”

Don’t let NJ go to Pot just rolled out their counter-campaign.

“Decriminalization could be achieved, theoretically, in a week in this state. And it hasn’t passed because those who want legal marijuana for everybody are stopping it from passing. Because they know if it passes, all the arguments they bring up around social justice issues will fall away, and a lot of the support for legal pot will fall away,” said Gregg Edwards, the group’s executive director.

Edwards says legalizing pot could do more harm than good in a variety of ways, including financially.

“Advocates of legalized pot, if they’re that concerned about potency, they should’ve been advocating for a law that actually limited the potency. They aren’t. They want THC content to be as high as possible,” he said. “And there are going to be costs to this. You have to regulate marijuana. Police departments will have to buy new equipment in order to test for marijuana.”

Both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana agree that the biggest challenge will be trying to get creative and reach as many voters they possibly can — virtually.