Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have reached an agreement on legalizing the sale and use of marijuana for pleasure in New Jersey.
They would unleash another damaging psychoactive drug on the state and its residents, despite marijuana’s proven harms, because of the prospect of substantial revenue from taxing and regulating cannabis. But much of the money from the legalized and expanded sale and use of marijuana would continue to go to illegal dealers of narcotics.
Legislators should strongly reject this lasting harm to the health of residents and undermining of New Jersey’s quality of life. The one beneficial aspect of the Democratic leaders’ drug deal — addressing the imbalances of narcotics law enforcement — can be done with a well-crafted bill decriminalizing and expunging existing records for lesser marijuana infractions.
At the very least, legislators should insist on giving the citizens of New Jersey a voice in whether marijuana should be legalized now, or not, or only after the further research that experts say is needed. And that vote should come after a lengthy, in-depth campaign to educate the public on the potential benefits and harms of widespread use of commercially powerful cannabis products.
The Murphy-Sweeney-Coughlin deal — reached after more than a year of secret negotiations — calls for a $42 per ounce state tax on marijuana. Municipalities could also tax pot stores at 3 percent, cannabis growers at 2 percent and wholesalers at 1 percent.
There’s vastly more money to be made by those chosen by state leaders to participate in a new marijuana industry.
The president of Green Living Technologies International, which grows currently legal medical marijuana, recently said it costs his company $175 to $200 a pound to grow — and then sells for $7,500 a pound.
But reaping that windfall at the expense of users will turn out to be somewhat of a pipe dream.
California, which has legalized cannabis, this year discovered its tax revenue from the drug was going to be at least 40 percent less than expected. That’s because the black market in marijuana is thriving, selling the drug at higher potencies for a lower price than the state, since illegal dealers needn’t pay tax, follow regulations or worry about safety testing.
An analysis by the Southern California News Group in November found that legalizing marijuana had created an elaborate network of unregulated growers and sellers who are less fearful of getting caught now that the drug is legal.
Shockingly, California’s sales of marijuana dropped from $3 billion in 2017 — when only medical marijuana was legal — to $2.5 billion last year when recreational cannabis was also legalized. Now the state is considering lowering its taxes to try to compete with the uncontrollable black market for pot.
In return for this diminished drug-trade revenue, Democratic leaders would sanction the widespread sale and use of a narcotic whose harmfulness has been described by the leading federal and global health authorities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6.”
The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research — a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — lists numerous known problems caused by marijuana and significant other possibilities demanding more research: • Learning, memory and attention are impaired after using cannabis, and the damage may last even after people stop using it. • Long-term cannabis use can have permanent effects on the developing brains of adolescents and young adults. • Cannabis use can impair driving. • Cannabis use is associated with the development of schizophrenia and other loss-of-reality mental illnesses. The risk is highest for the most frequent users. • Heavy cannabis users are more likely to report thoughts of suicide than nonusers. • The more a person uses cannabis, the more likely they are to develop problem cannabis use, such as cannabis-use disorder, dependence, abuse or other varying levels of hazardous or potentially harmful behavior.
The nation’s leading scientists also said more research is needed to determine whether cannabis can trigger heart attacks and strokes, decrease immune system function and lead to using other drugs.
The Medical Society of New Jersey, which opposes legalizing marijuana, said, “Creating an entire new industry to sell an intoxicating product to adult users is antithetical to improving the health status of our citizenry.”
Unlike the fiscal irresponsibility of state government leaders, which can at least be offset by future spending cuts or tax increases, the damage of a marijuana abuse health crisis would be difficult or impossible to undo.
Legislators who vote for this drug deal pushed by their leaders will share responsibility for the deaths, destroyed lives and impaired health of New Jersey if it is enacted.