What will cannabis legalization do for New Jersey? CannaContent co-founder Adam Uzialko sat down with Axel Owen, campaign manager for NJ CAN 2020, to find out.
During the interview, which aired on Instagram Live Oct. 14th, Adam and Axel discussed why previous efforts to legalize cannabis in New Jersey haven’t worked, what legalization can bring to the Garden State, and how you – yes, you! – can remind your friends, family, and fellow voters to literally “turn the page” and vote “yes” on Question 1, found on the back of New Jersey’s mail-in ballots (for the most part).
Here are the main takeaways from our interview:
Takeaway #1: Legalization will help New Jersey’s economy
When discussing the economic effects of legalizing cannabis, Axel said that a fully regulated New Jersey cannabis industry could bring in as much as $1 billion in sorely-needed annual tax revenue. After first citing a lower $300 million annual tax revenue estimate, he clarified: “That’s an incredibly conservative estimate, and it doesn’t include the ancillary businesses that would be created,” such as trucks, security, graphic design, packaging, and HVAC installation and maintenance services. “It could be all the way up to $1 billion in extra tax revenue,” he said, “just by legalizing a plant.”
Takeaway #2: Legalization can right the wrongs of Prohibition
NJ CAN 2020’s plans centralize, as the campaign’s website says, “legalization that focuses on racial and social justice as a required component.” That’s why, in our conversation, Axel reminded viewers that the cannabis arrest rate in New Jersey for Black people is 3.5 times higher than for white people – despite a lack of racial disparity in cannabis consumption.
These arrests certainly don’t come cheap. “The state of New Jersey wastes $143 million per year processing simple marijuana arrests,” Axel said bluntly during our conversation – and that’s before the money the state spends on cannabis-related trials and public defender salaries. Plus, Axel said, this $143 million figure reflects 32,000 annual arrests, whereas New Jersey now makes over 37,000 annual arrests and thus spends even more money per year.
Axel emphasized that the majority of cannabis arrests are “somebody carrying a joint. This is somebody carrying a dimebag.” In other words, why are we spending so much on activities that don’t harm other people? “Alcohol is way more addictive…but because cannabis is illegal…it tears people apart,” Axel said, citing the loss of student financial aid, current jobs, future job opportunities, and parental custody associated with illegal drug charges.
Takeaway #3: Legalization positively impacts communities
Axel reinforced that social progress isn’t nearly the only benefit of cannabis legalization. That’s not just supposition – he pointed to other areas’ legalization successes throughout our conversation.
Axel noted that “Colorado [and] Washington have actually seen a decrease in cannabis DUIs” after legalization and that in Aurora, Colorado, cannabis industry tax revenue led to “a brand new $40 million community center.” In Oakland, California, a Black or brown person is awarded a license for a plant-touching entity every time a white person does. And in Las Vegas, Axel said, “cannabis has now become part of the culture” and suggested the same could happen in New Jersey’s own casino haven, Atlantic City.
Takeaway #4: Legalization means a regulated industry
When Axel addressed audience questions about industry regulation, he discussed bans on marketing to children. “If we’re talking about a regulated market…you can’t even enter the room unless you’re 21,” he said. “The person that’s giving marijuana to children is the back-alley dealer. … In states that have legalized, youth usage has dropped. We’re at a national low when it comes to youth usage.” (Every state with a regulated market, whether medical or adult-use, has state-mandated restrictions on marketing with this express purpose top of mind.)
Axel added that, in a regulated market, “We know exactly the potency, the strain, the effects you’re going to get, and the THC levels. That’s a lot safer,” adding that this level of transparency is not readily available from black market products. He also said that a regulated market means control by the people, not by corporations. “It’s really important to communicate to your legislators [that] you want to see an equitable program built here by New Jerseyans, for New Jerseyans,” he said.
Takeaway #5: You can vote to legalize cannabis in New Jersey
Perhaps Axel’s most crucial point: Turning NJ CAN 2020’s talking points into action means properly completing your 2020 election ballot. Much of NJ CAN 2020’s work, he said, is “educating people about how to vote by mail correctly, walking them through exactly what you need to do.” That’s why the campaign uses the hashtag #TurnThePage on social media: “We’re on the backside of 99.99% of the ballots,” he said, so “turn the page on cannabis prohibition…but also, turn the page on your ballot.”
The referendum’s location on ballots is a primary concern. In 2016, “900,000 more people voted for president than [for the casino] ballot question,” Axel said, perhaps because many voters didn’t know the question was there. “Two-thirds of New Jerseyans support cannabis legalization,” he added, but if people don’t see the referendum question, “this all of a sudden becomes a 51/49 race.” And it’s not just a potentially narrow race – it’s an urgent one. “If we don’t get this done now,” said Axel, “the earliest we can attempt it again is in four years,” noting that ballot measures cannot be reintroduced for quite some time after a failed vote.
To that end, we’re calling for immediate action. At CannaContent, we stand with NJ CAN 2020’s goal to legalize, tax, and regulate adult-use cannabis while ensuring racial and social justice in all legislation. To learn more about NJ CAN 2020 and the cannabis legalization ballot referendum, you can ask questions and raise awareness on social media using the hashtag #TurnThePage, call your county clerk, or visit the NJ CAN 2020 website. There, you can find more reasons to vote for legalization, check your voter registration, register to vote, receive a mail-in ballot, find your polling place, and read the ballot referendum in full. You can also get involved with the campaign – and if you do, we’ll see you on the trail.