Lower Your Expectations (a lot) and Vote YES to Legalize Cannabis in NJ

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

For my entire adult life, I’ve been the guy people call when they have questions about marijuana. Cancer diagnosis in the family and you need edibles? Call Jay. Confused about which other states will honor your NJ medical cannabis ID? Call Jay. Curious about how to break into the cannabis industry? You get the idea.

Recently, the pot queries are all about the upcoming referendum to legalize adult-use cannabis in NJ. A referendum is what we ended up when NJ lawmakers spectacularly failed to reform NJ’s cannabis laws the old fashioned way.

The questions about NJ’s referendum are often more basic than you might expect.

“Jay, I received my General Election mail-in ballot today and I am confused,” Kate, my neighbor, texted last night. “Isn’t there supposed to be a referendum re: marijuana in NJ this fall?”

It turns out, the referendum appears on the flip side of NJ ballot, a design quirk that could degrade the referendum vote by as much as a third.

It’s the kind of thing that keeps Axel Owen up at night. Mr Owens runs NJCAN2020, a coalition of pro-cannabis orgs dedicated to ending cannabis prohibition in NJ.

“The fact that we are on the back of the ballot is a major concern,” Mr Owen told InsiderNJ. “Every poll released has shown the ballot question with broad support and a wide lead. But if voters do not turn over their ballot to vote yes, this race could get very close, very quickly. That’s why we are asking everyone to #TurnThePage and vote Yes on Public Question #1.”

NJ’s poorly-designed ballot isn’t the only reason why legalization-by-referendum was a lousy choice.

In November of 2016, a delegation of NJ lawmakers, lobbyists, and regulators trekked out to Denver to learn about Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry. I covered the junket for Leafly and for Observer and vividly recally when State Senator Pat Steadman explained the downside of legalization by referendum.

“Constitutional amendments are too detailed and inflexible,” Mr Steadman said at the time. “It would be much preferable to address this issue through statute. I would eliminate most of what’s in our constitution and move it all to statute, retaining only the most basic concepts of a right to use, possess, and cultivate and directions to the legislature for creating a regulatory framework for businesses in this industry.”

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg was a two-term state lawmaker from Burlington County. She was on the Denver trip.

“They warned us against legalization by referendum for a number of reasons including continued racial (arrest) disparities, issues with banking, and law enforcement,” Ms Rodriguez told InsiderNJ. “But mostly, this referendum represents the New Jersey legislature’s inability to legislate on the important issue of legalization, an issue that they already know their constituents overwhelmingly support.” Ms Rodriguez was joined in Denver by Senate President Steve Sweeney who, after lawmakers diddled,  ultimately green-lighted the referendum.

Social Justice 

Halfway through this draft another referendum question arrived via text. This time from my friend Jess.

“Hey Jay, if this weed question passes, do you know what it means for people currently serving jail time for weed?”

If Garden State voters legalize cannabis on Nov 3, it won’t help people in jail for weed right away. That would require post-referendum legislation. Trenton punted legalization to the voters precisely because they couldn’t figure out things like expungements.

Hard Sell.

When NJ legalizes marijuana in November, it won’t include provisions for home-grown cannabis, not even for medical users. Instead, cannabis consumers will fork over $500 (or more) for an ounce of lab-grown cannabis to a cartel of politically-connected dispensaries. Outside of low-level dispensary gigs, average folk will be largely shut out of the cannabis industry in NJ.

Enshrining, a corporate cannabis model into the NJ constitution was hardly the pitch I hoped to be making to fellow voters.

But here we are.

And now that I’ve driven your expectations into the toilet, I hope you’ll join me voting YES to legalize cannabis in NJ.

When I votes YES to legalize cannabis in NJ, I’ll be thinking of fewer pot arrests and cheaper cannabis for medical consumers.

And I’ll be lamenting missed opportunities and all the activism left to do pressuring lawmakers who can’t kick the can on expungements forever.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose prose is frequently fueled by cannabis. Send him your pot queries on Twitter @Jay_Lass

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    The ballot question proposes an amendment to the NJ Constitution to legalize cannabis that will give adults the right to buy, sell, possess, transport, use & grow cannabis! (Of course, some restrictions will apply.) I anticipate arguments in civil and criminal courts that the amendment does, in fact, allow home cultivation.

    The Coalition for Medical Marijuana–New Jersey, Inc. plans to work with the Cannabis Regulatory Commission in the development of regulations to enact this amendment to ensure that home cultivation is part of legal cannabis in New Jersey.

    At the same time we will continue to work with legislators for a bill to specifically allow NJ MMP patients and caregivers to grow a limited supply of cannabis for their medical needs.

    If the ballot question fails, the war on marijuana will be business as usual, and we will be that much further away from home cultivation, legalization, expungement, social justice, etc. The first step is victory in November that we can build on. We encourage NJ residents to join us in our efforts to pass this ballot question.

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