New Jersey and Marijuana Legalization

(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

Let me state upfront that after talking to many police officers, on November 3rd this writer voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state of New Jersey.  One officer in particular said that about one-third of his time was processing marijuana-related incidents, spending time in court and then finding out that the perpetrators were given a slap on the wrist and sent on their way.

Other states have been moving in this direction although the jury is still out on the efficacy of marijuana legalization.  But, New Jersey is unique in two ways when it comes to this subject.  The first is that the state is notoriously corrupt, especially at the local levels and in Trenton.  The second is that the state is notoriously over-taxed and over-regulated in many areas.  It might explain why the state is bleeding residents and revenue.  The latter part, revenue, may explain why the state is one of the worst when it comes to existing debt.

The lead state legislator when it comes to pot is Democrat Nicholas Scutari from Union County who heads the state senate judiciary committee.  Said Scutari:

By implementing a regulated system that allows people age 21 and over to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use we will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades. As a municipal prosecutor, I have seen the effects of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ with failed laws that have a prejudicial impact on communities of color. Too many people are arrested, incarcerated and left with criminal records that disrupt and even destroy their lives. New Jersey can be a national leader in legalizing a once stigmatized drug.  {Emphasis mine}

Anticipated to raise $143 million annually in needed revenue for the state treasury, the enacting legislation, S-21, would dedicate 70% of the sales tax revenue on pot to aid targeted “impact zones,” or those deemed to be particularly most hurt by marijuana laws.  Guess what those communities are!  In case there is any doubt, cultivators would be slapped with a “Social equity excise tax” with 100% of that revenue going to these same communities.  The remaining 30% of the sales tax would go to the newly formed Regulatory Commission and to train law enforcement.

State senate leader, Stephen Sweeney, waxed poetic when S-21 advanced out of committee by a 6-5 vote:

This is a historic step forward for New Jersey that will put us in the forefront of the reform movement.  We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults. This represents a significant change in public policy that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy.  {Emphasis mine}

In keeping with the taxing theme, communities would be permitted to disallow retailers in their environs, but if they choose to do so, then they may further tax the pot with a local 2% sales tax.  Built into the law are various incentives for minorities, women, and disabled veterans to participate in the industry.

There is so much to unravel here.  The first is the taxes on the pot itself which will likely deter people, because of price, from purchasing the legally dispensed pot.  Hence, an underground market designed to undercut the prices dictated by the state will remain.  Is a pot smoker going to pay $50 at the local retailer, or $35 on the street corner?

Secondly, how a referendum sold as a revenue source for the state and freeing the police of busting low-level crimes transformed into a great social justice experiment is not explained.  But allow me to explain this.  Because of the taxing scheme and likely regulatory fees associated with it- costs that will be passed onto the consumer- it will likely be the more affluent members of society taking advantage of the legal marijuana.  The fees collected by the state are then directed to “impact zones,” or communities of color.  In short, it is a wealth redistribution system disguised as being at “the forefront of the reform movement.”

The legislation that emerged from the judiciary committee is a classic New Jersey example of shooting oneself in the foot.  Instead of reforming the marijuana laws and making it legal and simply yet another taxed item in the state, they decided to go all “social justice” with it.  But that is the state of affairs in Trenton- stupidity melded to fake virtue is always a recipe for disaster.


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