New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he is not adverse to revisiting the question of legalizing marijuana as a way to help the state recover from the devastating economic damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and state-imposed closures to detain the spread of the virus, which continues to surge throughout the country.
Gov. Murphy added that legalizing marijuana would also have the added and necessary benefit of promoting racial justice and ending the indiscriminate arrests of people of color for simple pot possession, a national problem.
“I’ve been on this from day one. The legislature hasn’t been able to get there yet, but absolutely. That is, to me, an incredible smart thing to do. We’re not inventing marijuana. It exists. It’s got a huge social justice piece for me,” Murphy said in a coronavirus briefing on Q104.3, a local radio station.
“The overwhelming percentage of persons nailed in our criminal justice system are persons of color; it’s a no-brainer in that respect. It’s a job creator. It’s a tax revenue raiser. It checks a lot of boxes. I hope we’ll get there sooner than later.”
The New Jersey legislature has not managed to pass its much-awaited marijuana legalization bill, though the issue will on a referendum put before voters on the November ballot has gone through.
New Jersey reportedly spends about $127 million per year on cannabis enforcement, a sum that could surely be used to replenish the state’s coffers, which have at least a $3 billion shortfall from its$38.7 billion budget for the current fiscal year, with deeper losses looming for 2021.
Though in mid-June 2020, the state assembly voted to decriminalize cannabis possession, the New Jersey police annually make over 30,000 marijuana-related arrests, among the highest in the nation, according to Garden State NORML.
The ACLU has noted in various reports that black people are arrested at three times the rate of white people on marijuana charges despite similar usage rates.
“Something is wrong here and we need legalization to start making it right,” said Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the ACLU of New Jersey.
“They squandered state resources at taxpayers’ expense, all while the majority of New Jerseyans believe marijuana should be legal.”
Gov. Murphy needs to push for legalization, not only for the tax revenue but because it’s the right thing to do and he promised when he took office in 2017.
“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana. And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just,” Gov. Murphy said.