NEW JERSEY — Yes, the Presidential elections are important.   As doubtless are those races for Congress. Sure, it's good to vote for your Mayor and Board of Education members. However, let's not forget that, in this election cycle, the legalization of marijuana is also up for a vote.  To be blunt, will weed grow in the Garden State?

Ballot Question No. 1 asks voters to approve amending the Constitution of New Jersey to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called cannibis. Cannibis is a psychoactive drug — one that affects the mind — used mostly for medical or recreational purposes. Cannabis can be used by smoking, vaporizing, in food or as a chemical liquid extract. Currently, its use and distribution is illegal in New Jersey except for medical use as prescribed by doctors. According to NORML, super-majorities of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate decided to place a marijuana legalization ballot question before voters in 2020.

The ballot question says that, like alcohol, cannabis can only be purchased and used legally by adults over age 21. The ballot question states that the New Jersey State Cannibus Regulatory Commission that is currently overseeing the state's medical marijuana program would also be in charge of the personal-use cannabis market.

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Like alcohol and cigarettes, cannabis products would be taxed by the state. Individual municipalities may be able to pass local ordinances that could charge an additional tax on cannibis-based products. The New Jersey State Legislature would set the regulation statewide on the "adult cannabis market" says the ballot. 

What would marijuana legalization mean for the average New Jerseyan?

* Ingesting cannibis in any form by an adult would be legal. Possessing cannabis would be legal. Driving under the influence of cannibis would still be illegal.

*Selling cannibis would be regulated by the state and would likely be taxed heavily. Dealing cannibis would still be illegal.

*Taxation would contribute to the economy. Taxation would increase the cost of the cannibis. Some towns could legally place additional taxes on it.

According to The New Jersey Law Journal, "An April 2020 Monmouth University Poll of registered New Jersey voters showed that 61% would vote in favor of cannabis legalization in November, and 34% would vote against. Per the poll, support comes from 74% of Democrats, 64% of Independents and 40% of Republicans. In fact, according to the same Monmouth Poll, legalization is more popular in New Jersey than either presidential candidate, Democrat Joe Biden (54%) or Republican Donald Trump (38%)."

Legalization may be likely, and its impact will be felt not only as a lucrative business that generates tax revenue for the state, but also as a re-visioning of state law and criminal prosecution. One month ago, State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a statement to prosecutors statewide that outlined a new view of criminal prosecution: "The Memorandum focuses in particular on how municipal prosecutors may permissibly exercise their discretion in cases involving marijuana-related offenses." The document provides some temporary guidance for prosecutors statewide during the period between marijuana crimes and their current status under the law and the possible legalization to follow.

Despite the popularity, even among members of law enforcement, for legalization — there are still concerns among some about the impact of marijuana use on mental health. In a recent issue of Police Chief magazine, "Unregulated access to legalized marijuana in many states and countries will influence law enforcement’s response to those in mental health crises. The full extent of the impact of the drug is unknown; however, mental health is an ever-growing challenge with no end in sight. When individuals with mental illness introduce marijuana into their systems, potential psychotic episodes can occur more frequently. As resources to assist in their recovery continue to dwindle, many individuals will go untreated, creating an even higher demand on law enforcement."  It seems that the D.A.R.E. program in New Jersey didn't have it completely wrong, either.

The National Crime Justice Reference Service, a division of the Department of Justice, compiled an extensive report two months ago about what they have learned about the effect of cannabis legalization in states that already permit it. The researchers found that cannibis-related crime was not seriously affected by legalization.  It was de-prioritized in most policing communities. There was an increase in DUI arrests of cannabis users, through it became illegal to search a car just because the smell of cannabis was present.  There was less need for K-9 dogs. There was more work for police due to driving infractions.

The businesses are out there and ready, too.  Here's a few from AmericanMarijuana.org.  The lawyers are ready to help businesses, also. There will be four classes of licenses: Grower license; processor license for facilities involved in manufacturing, preparation, and packaging of cannabis items; wholesaler license, and retailer license where consumers will purchase cannabis products.

There will be a lot of big business in getting a little high, New Jersey.

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