Nicholas Scutari's new legislation — to legalize the sale, possession and growing of marijuana in New Jersey — was the toke of the town last week, with critics and supporters both trading the usual barbs about addiction, social consequences, costs and the like on a piece of legislation that seems about as high on Chris Christie's list of priorities as granting additional powers to the state Supreme Court.
There is a real economic case to be made for the legalization of marijuana. The state could realize serious savings on the law enforcement side, but that would only be a fraction of the tax revenue New Jersey could collect as a result. And the last time New Jersey turned to legalizing a vice to help with tax problems, it created Atlantic City — which, if properly maintained, could have remained a real success story. The economic benefit to New Jersey could be significant and could help meet obligations in education, transportation and health care that no politician is taking seriously.
We really only have one problem with the bill, and it's the business case of it — Scutari's desire to, as The Star-Ledger reported, treat it like the sale of beer. If there's one model no industry in the state should emulate, it's the local liquor store. New Jersey's strict licensing system has created little fiefdoms that are protected from the bothers of playing fair thanks to a state-supported monopoly that prohibits competing stores from taking root in the same town.
We feel the initial estimate for pot sales — Scutari puts the number at $100 million — will go up in smoke, much like the initial online gaming numbers Christie was throwing around in the heady days ahead of i-gaming's launch. But to say there would be an economic benefit is putting it mildly.
If lawmakers craft this one to ensure revenue collected was dedicated to these in-demand areas — as well as ensuring the integrity and safety of the product — we support it. It seems unlikely Christie will sign it, even though states such as Colorado already have seen the light — and the revenue. We'll see if New Jersey gets there, but the business community ought to be in favor of this one.
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