By Andrea Vasquez
New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize medical marijuana in January 2010 and a couple of years later, opened its first dispensary. Patients pay the state 7 percent sales tax, but it doesn’t add up to much.
“The economic impact in terms of what we’ve had so far is miniscule,” said Sen. Nick Scutari.
Scutari points to Colorado, which raked in $2 million in taxes from its first month selling marijuana for recreational use. He says New Jersey could reap the same benefits and he’s drafted a bill to expand marijuana sales here.
“The public would benefit from the job creation, the tax revenue from property taxes or income tax payments, not to mention the savings that you’d get in law enforcement and the judicial and probationary system,” Scutari said.
But opponents see more than just green. The governor says he won’t approve sale of marijuana for recreational use.
“It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances,” Christie said.
“Well the problem is people are trying to parlay the goals of the medicinal marijuana program into recreational use,” said DARE New Jersey President and CEO Nick DeMauro.
New Jersey’s program is one of the strictest in the country, with a comparatively short list of eligible conditions and a long string of requirements to register.
“It’s almost as if we’re dealing with nuclear waste here in terms of how delicate it’s been with dealing with marijuana regulations. It’s been extremely onerous for people to participate in the program,” Scutari said.
It takes about three months from the time the plants are cloned from the mother plant to be grown, dried, trimmed and ready for the patient.
Patients buying an ounce at a New Jersey dispensary pay an average of $469. But Garden State Dispensary Spokesman Yale Galanter said Colorado patients pay about $200 an ounce.
“The cost of producing medical marijuana in New Jersey and the cost of producing it elsewhere is just tremendously different. You know, the rules, the regulations, the legal fees, the administrative fees — New Jersey’s just a totally different ballgame,” Galanter said.
New Jersey, with nearly 9 million residents, registered about 1,750 patients. In Colorado, more than 60 times that many people have medical marijuana cards.
“Remember, with a customer base of 1,700, it’s very difficult to even pay your bills,” said Galanter.
While some see dollar signs, opponents say that no amount of money will be worth the risk to state residents.
“I just see the ramifications of drug use on a daily basis and we just can’t forget how many families are hurt and suffer because of this,” DeMauro said.
“It could end up being a billion dollar industry by the time all is said and done, in terms of the savings, the economic revenue generated and the tax ratables. So it’s a lot of money that people should be thinking about when they wonder whether or not we should go forward with this program,” said Scutari.
State lawmakers will get the chance to hash this all out when Scutari introduces his bill in the coming weeks.