If you live in New Jersey, which many of you do, you have (assuming you are able and registered to vote) received a mail-in ballot.
On the front of that ballot are the obvious electoral showdowns, stemming from President to Congress, but if you have not taken the time to flip it over, you should — marijuana is on the ballot.
“For two years, New Jersey lawmakers had failed to mobilize enough support to pass a bill to fully legalize marijuana. Instead, they agreed in December to put the question directly to voters: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?’” according to The New York Times.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and the state legislator failed us on their promise to legalize marijuana before, arguing over the taxes that would couple legalization and eventually reaching a stalemate.
“New Jersey seemed on track to pass legislation legalizing cannabis last year, with support from Democratic Gov. Murphy and fellow Democrats Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney. But the effort went up in smoke when legislative leaders couldn’t wrangle enough support from lawmakers,” according to CBS New York.
But the reasoning for legal weed extends far beyond wanting to get high without persistent police-induced paranoia. The New Jersey economy, stifled by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the lockdowns that followed, could greatly benefit from the introduction of a marijuana industry.
Outside of the jobs that a new industry would create, the tax revenue from such businesses could help out the Garden State. Look to Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 — last year it crossed $1 billion in tax collections from the sector, a number that has certainly grown since.
“Marijuana tax, license and fee revenue has reached $1.02 billion, and marijuana sales over $6.5 billion, the Colorado Department of Revenue announced in a news release. Colorado has 2,917 licensed marijuana businesses and 41,076 licensed individuals working in the industry,” according to The Denver Post.
Those are not minor numbers, and in a state with a higher population than Colorado, the jobs and revenues generated by a marijuana industry would be greater in number.
Safety is another perspective to look at. The fact is, legal or not, there will always be people who smoke, ingest or otherwise consume cannabis. By legalizing it, there at least becomes some sort of governmental safeguard against laced or otherwise poor product.
Take a look at last year’s vaping epidemic, where people suddenly became harmed by bootleg marijuana carts.
“Some 12 people have died from mysterious lung illnesses linked to vape pens, and 805 others have been hospitalized in 46 states, according to federal health officials … The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most of the patients reported using vapes containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana,” according to NBC News.
With legalization comes a level of governmental regulation, much like we see with alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration would likely assure that the marijuana released to the market is safe for public consumption, outside the normal risks of the drug.
In addition, marijuana can be used to treat many ailments, from anxiety to chronic pain. Having it on the market would essentially make it an over-the-counter drug, rather than a prescription one. It will be more accessible for those who benefit from its health effects.
“The most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is for pain control. While marijuana isn’t strong enough for severe pain (for example, post-surgical pain or a broken bone), it is quite effective for the chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age,” according to Harvard Health.
But most importantly, legalization would combat a racist criminal justice system that penalized minority communities far more than white ones for low-level drug crimes. The war on marijuana contributes to racial inequality and mass incarceration, which concerns all of us.
“Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 (percent) were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
These racist disparities in marijuana law enforcement merely propagate a system that already fervently tries to tear down minority communities. Legalizing weed would be a small step forward, but it would still be a step forward.
All college students who have the privilege of voting should do so, if not for any of the politicians on the ballot, for the referendum on marijuana, which impacts you and the world around you even if you do not personally choose to partake in the activity. For the sake of the Garden State’s wellbeing and untapped potential, vote yes for legalization.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.