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New Jersey voters will decide whether or not the state will allow the sale of marijuana to those over the age of 21 by voting on a ballot question Nov. 3.
The state has a nearly decade-old medical cannabis program and Gov. Phil Murphy has for three years called for the state Legislature to pass a bill legalizing it. But after falling short of the necessary votes to pass such a bill in the state Senate multiple times, lawmakers moved to put the issue before the people.
The question reads as follows:
Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”
Various polls show about two-thirds of voters support legalization. Here’s a breakdown of the question, and what a legal marijuana industry might look like in New Jersey.
Q: What is cannabis?
A: Cannabis is a family of plants that includes marijuana, which contains the compound THC that makes a user feel high. But the family also includes hemp, a non-intoxicating plant used to make fibers, plastics and other goods. Hemp and marijuana can both produce oils, like the popular CBD marketed in lotions, tinctures and gummies.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp federally as long as the THC rate remains below 0.3%, but continued to prohibit marijuana. Eleven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana locally, although those laws put them at odds with the federal restrictions.
Q: What are the intoxicating effects of weed?
A: Consuming THC often makes people feel relaxed, sleepy and mildly euphoric. It can also cause anxiety and delayed response time.
Q: Is THC addictive?
A: A minority of people who use marijuana may fall into patterns of addiction, studies show. While THC is far less addictive than drugs like nicotine or opioids, those who use it heavily report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness and physical discomfort upon stopping, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Q: Is smoking the only way to consume marijuana and THC?
A: No, THC can also be used as an oil and put into edibles, like brownies and gummies. Consuming THC in these ways can produce a high that lasts longer than smoking.
Illicit edibles often lack labeling and regulation, which make it hard for a user to determine their impact. Edibles businesses have boomed in states that have legalized marijuana. Those companies must properly dose and label their products for potency.
Q: Where can I find the ballot question?
A: Ballots will differ by town to incorporate local races, but the question will appear on the back page of most, if not all, ballots. Advocates are reminding voters to turn their ballots over to make sure they see the question.
Q: Who will be able to buy legal weed?
A: The question allows the sale of marijuana to those over the age of 21. People from other states could purchase marijuana in New Jersey.
Q: When will it become legal?
A: A “yes” vote on the question does not flip a switch to instantly create a new industry. The state Legislature must still pass a bill with rules and regulations to guide the industry.
If voters approve the question, legal sales could come months or more than a year later.
Q: How much can I purchase?
A: The question does not establish purchase limits. In the medical program, patients can purchase up to 3 ounces each month.
Q: Where could I buy it?
A: The question allows the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the program and would likely license new operators. That commission is also poised to take over the state’s medical marijuana program from the Department of Health, which currently has licensed 12 companies to grow, process and dispense medical cannabis.
The proposed amendment does not address lounges, which have begun to pop up out West, or online ordering and delivery, which became new features of the medical program this year.
Q: Where could I smoke it?
A: The amendment does not say, but in many other states with legal weed, consumption is largely limited to private property. Some other states have begun to open cannabis lounges that allow for on-site consumption.
Q: What are the arguments for legalization?
A: Advocates say legalization will stop low-level drug arrests, which sometimes follow people for years and impact their ability to apply for jobs, financial aid or housing. They also say a new industry will create jobs and bring new tax revenue to help New Jersey shore up its budget gaps following the coronavirus crisis.
Q: What are the arguments against legalization?
A: Those opposed worry about youth use and an uptick in driving under the influence. But some studies show youth use has dropped in states that have legalized weed for those over 21, and studies have failed to directly link legalization to higher rates of car crashes.
Q: What happens if I smoke weed and drive?
A: Driving under the influence of marijuana would not become legal, although enforcing such laws proves challenging for police. THC remains in the bloodstream for weeks after a person consumes it. That makes tests used to gauge alcohol intoxication levels unreliable for marijuana driving incidents.
New Jersey currently uses drug recognition experts (DREs) to determine if a person is operating their vehicle while high. Training these officers and putting them on the stand in DUI cases is costly and tedious for many police departments, making law enforcement officials wary of legalization.
But in 2018, the state began training more officers to serve as DREs in anticipation of legalization. Some companies have begun to develop new technologies to detect THC in breath, but police remain cautious about relying on emerging technology to collect vital evidence.
Q: How many people do police arrest for marijuana in New Jersey?
A: Estimates say police arrest nearly 100 people per day in the state on marijuana offenses. Those arrests disproportionately affect Black people, who police arrest at 3.5 times the rate of white people, despite similar rates of marijuana use among both groups.
Q: Will arrests for marijuana possession stop?
A: The question only addresses legality for those over the age of 21, and without other laws to decriminalize possession, those 20 and younger could still face arrest. People who distribute marijuana illegally would still be subject to arrest, too.
The state Legislature is considering two bills that would decriminalize possession of marijuana, but neither has advanced far since their introduction in June. One replaces arrests for up to two ounces with a fine of $50, while the other would decriminalize up to one pound of marijuana and instead result in written warnings and a $25 fine.
Q: What is the tax rate?
A: The proposed amendment sets the tax rate at 6.625%, the state sale’s tax. Municipalities could potentially levy their own local tax on sales up to 2%.
That rate falls far below other states: In Massachusetts, consumers pay 17-20% in tax on marijuana purchases. Illinois can go as high as 40%.
Because the question comes as an amendment to the state constitution, it may prove difficult for lawmakers to change down the line. Some say keeping the rate low will help to stamp out the illegal market by making prices competitive, but others worry it will do little to raise revenue New Jersey needs to following the coronavirus crisis.
Q: What is the commission mentioned in the question?
A: Under the law passed expanding the medical marijuana program, the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Act, control of the program moved from the state Department of Health to a new commission in the treasury, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. The law, signed last summer, mandated the commission take over the program and establish rules and regulations by January 2020.
But the board still sits mostly empty, with just one of the five members needed to steer it named. Gov. Phil Murphy must appoint three people, and Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Stephen Sweeney each one. Only Sweeney has made his appointment.
Q: Who supports the question?
A: A coalition of doctors, activists, lobbyists and business people have come together as NJ CAN 2020 to push for a yes vote on the question. Groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Progressive Democrats of New Jersey, BlueWave New Jersey and Action Together New Jersey have all publicly supported legalization.
Q: Who opposes it?
A: Don’t Let NJ Go to Pot, which includes many members of the former NJ Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (RAMP) have said they oppose the question. The Republican County Chairmen’s Association voted unanimously on a resolution opposing the question, as did the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
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Amanda Hoover may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj.