A Dispatch from the Frontline*
by Alex Lleras, Government Relations State Manager @ Weedmaps
I’ve been working in New Jersey’s medical and adult-use cannabis legalization movement for three years; even before I graduated from Rutgers University in 2017. I sometimes joke that my tenure equates to 1260 “cannabis years” (one year = 420 “cannabis years’’). My Jersey journey has sometimes felt that arduous, but my pot of gold (or pot of pot) is in sight — when adult-use cannabis sales are legal in the Garden State.
Every industry has its own set of truths, even a nascent industry like mine. Here’s one: There is something about combining the word “cannabis” with the word “legalization” that still makes people nervous. And here’s the best/worst example of that truth in action: On November 3, New Jersians will go to the polls to finally (the backstory of this ballot initiative has more drama than a Mary Higgins Clark novel) allow adult-use cannabis sales in the state.
Only 64 percent of New Jersey voters favor the measure.
“Only 64 percent?” she said.
Yeah, I can’t believe support for legalization isn’t double that.
New Jersey isn’t the first state in the United that has tried to legalize adult-use cannabis. Eleven states and the District of Columbia already blazed that trail, and last I looked, the sky was still above us. “Legal states” like Colorado, Washington, California — more recently Illinois and Michigan — as well as a half dozen others have been New Jersey’s cannabis laboratory, test kitchen, and pre-Broadway run. We’ve seen the best of other states’ efforts in taxation policy, social equity prioritization, retail density planning, licensing roll out, and we’ve endured their worst. We watched our neighbor, Massachusetts — in what sometimes seemed slow-motion — struggle but eventually get a footing.
We paid attention and asked questions. We took notes.
We know what to expect when legalization rolls into town. It seems counterintuitive, but we will more than likely see both underage use of cannabis, as well as crime in the neighborhoods where dispensaries are located, actually go down. Property values in those same jurisdictions will go up. The state’s medical cannabis marketplace, begun in 2010, established the plant’s health and wellness benefits — and provided us the opportunity to get educated and familiar with it.
With its battalion of gas station attendants and 565 fiefdoms (known to civilians as cities, townships, towns, villages, and boroughs), there is no other state like New Jersey. But it does share (even exemplify) the noble goals and aspirations of every other state in our union: to be a place where the citizenry can build a life that is safe, healthy, and comfortable; construct a livelihood that is prosperous and fair, and provides security, mobility and opportunity; and affords every individual unlimited options and possibilities in their pursuit of happiness.
Few ballot box issues cover all of that heady stuff. But cannabis legalization does.
“Cannabis” + “legalization” shouldn’t make New Jersians nervous. The combination of those words should and will, however, make us safer, healthier, and more comfortable. Cannabis legalization will contribute to our prosperity, security, and mobility; will enhance opportunity, and play a role in ensuring fairness for all New Jersians, and it will most certainly afford unlimited options and possibilities for those of us in the noble pursuit of happiness.
*A version of this essay originally appeared in New Jersey Cannabis Insider.
** Note: Weedmaps is a financial contributor to the NJ CAN 2020 campaign.