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New Jersey’s Approval of Legal Marijuana Could Trigger Legalization in New York and Pennsylvania

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New Jersey voters’ decision to legalize recreational marijuana sales isn’t just big news for the Garden State. More than 20 million people live within an hour of New Jersey’s borders in New York and Pennsylvania where adult-use cannabis remains illegal. The prospects for large-scale marijuana tourism, and lost tax dollars to New York and Pennsylvania’s state coffers, are high.

The persistence of cannabis prohibition in New York and Pennsylvania is not for a lack of trying on the part of some prominent lawmakers in New Jersey’s neighboring states. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to legalize recreational marijuana twice through his annual budget proposal. His first effort failed due to various disagreements on, for instance, tax allocations, industry regulations and racial equity concerns. After making several changes to his proposal for a fresh attempt this year, the coronavirus outbreak struck forcing Cuomo to put the measure on the back burner.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has come round to the idea of legalizing adult-use cannabis in the Keystone State. His Lt. Gov. John Fetterman spent a good deal of time last year touring the state to understand residents’ views on the prospect of marijuana legalization and reported majority support for the measure. The state then saw the introduction of what was loftily described as “the gold standard legalization bill for the free world,” which stalled in the Senate and was later revised and reintroduced this year. It faces the same challenge as before though, as the Republicans held on to both chambers of the state’s General Assembly following the 2020 elections.

But perhaps lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New York will be more accommodating to marijuana legalization proposals that come their way now that millions of their residents are only a short drive or train ride away from being able to purchase cannabis legally?

New York Sen. Liz Krueger, who spearheaded Cuomo’s legalization efforts in the legislature, certainly believes this will act as a motivation for state officials and lawmakers.

“There will be motivation by many in New York government to not want to continue to lose … economic activity, jobs and money spent to yet another state on our border: New Jersey,” said Krueger.

New Jersey Sen. Nick Scutari introduced a doomed adult-use cannabis legalization bill to the legislature last year before Gov. Murphy pursued the ballot option, and he’s hoping for a rush of visitors once New Jersey’s legal marijuana market is established.

“We’re surrounded by some populous states and we’re hopeful that their residents would come over and visit,” Scutari said.

Before that can happen though, New Jersey lawmakers need to finalize and vote on an adult-use cannabis bill. While many want this to happen as soon as possible, it’s not without its complications. If New Jersey is slow to establish regulations for a legal market, there’s a chance New York could quickly catch up come the next legislative session in January.

“I’m not going to say we’re ahead of New Jersey because I haven’t looked at New Jersey’s draft legislation,” Krueger said. “But I feel fairly confident that New York is very close to being able to pass a complete and thorough piece of legislation [enacting] legalized marijuana.” For now, the immediate prospects for legalization in Pennsylvania, with its Republican-controlled legislature, are a lot dimmer. As Gov. Wolf said though, marijuana legalization could help the state in its pandemic relief efforts. Legalization in New Jersey (and New York, for that matter) and the attending tax revenue benefits could make this truth an impossible one to ignore as time wears on. The fact that largely conservative states like South Dakota and Montana legalized adult-use cannabis at the 2020 elections could also make legalization more palatable to Pennsylvanian Republicans.

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