March 28, 2019 12:44PM

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory


All the elements for swiftly legalizing marijuana in New Jersey seemed to be in place: A proposed bill was enthusiastically backed by Gov. Philip D. Murphy and had been endorsed by leaders of the Democratic‐​controlled State Legislature. Also, statewide polls showed support for the issue.

Then the plans unraveled.


Some lawmakers were unsure about how to tax marijuana sales. Others feared legalization would flood the state’s congested streets and highways with impaired drivers. Some would not be deterred from believing that marijuana was a dangerous menace to public health.

A disagreement existed among lawmakers about … whether it was necessary to expunge criminal records for marijuana‐​related offenses for those found with as much as five pounds of the drug.


For states like California and Massachusetts, legalizing marijuana has led to some negative results: underwhelming tax revenue; a host of public health and safety concerns, such as keeping the drug out of teenagers’ hands; and a burgeoning industry dominated by white corporate interests even as advocates in Hispanic and black communities say their neighborhoods have been most negatively affected by the drug.


1. The claim that NJ could not figure out how to tax marijuana makes no sense. NJ taxes thousands of products, and ten states plus DC already tax MJ sales.

2. The concerns about impaired drivers, public health, and teens are no doubt real, but grossly overstated and based on misleading anecdotes or faulty statistics; the evidence from existing state legalizations finds little evidence of adverse effects.

3. Expungement of past marijuana offenses should be a separate issue from whether to legalize going forward.

4. Antipathy to “corporate” provision of legalized marijuana is mainly protectionism for existing marijuana sellers, whether underground or medical. Legalization will likely drive out small, high cost suppliers; that is how capitalism works.

5. The failure of revenues to match expectations, in the more recent legalizations, was completely predictable. On the one hand, many revenue forecasts have been wildly optimistic. On the other hand, the early legalizers collected substantial revenues because of limited competition from other states; as more states have legalized, the remaining demand is inevitably smaller.

Bottom line: New Jersey should just legalize.