New Jersey is moving “full weed ahead” toward legalizing recreational marijuana. In his inauguration speech on Tuesday, newly elected Democratic governor Phil Murphy said that his vision for a “stronger and fairer New Jersey … includes a process to legalize marijuana,” as part of a broader package of criminal-justice reforms.
While Murphy frames his support for marijuana legalization primarily as a means of combating mass incarceration and racial disparities in criminal justice, there is also a fiscal component to his pitch: By some estimates, a legal pot market could provide the Garden State with an additional $300 million in revenue by 2020. Given New Jersey’s pension obligations, myriad public-sector needs, and already-high property and income taxes (which are set to bite harder, thanks to the GOP tax bill), the revenue argument for bringing the cannabis trade into the legitimate economy may prove the most salient.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era policy that had enabled states to pursue marijuana legalization without threat of federal interference (so long as they took measures to prevent reefer from getting into the hands of minors or criminal gangs). But Sessions’s memo still afforded U.S. Attorneys the prosecutorial discretion to leave dispensaries be. And, for the moment, they appear to be taking a laissez-faire approach to policing the weed trade in the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
There are pockets of support for marijuana prohibition within the Democrat-controlled state legislature. But former governor Chris Christie had long been the primary obstacle to legalization. The president of New Jersey’s State Senate, Stephen Sweeney, is a staunch supporter of legalizing weed. Sweeney’s position empowers him to unilaterally decide which bills receive public hearings or floor votes, and the Senate president has vowed to put a pot bill on Murphy’s desk within