Next Tuesday, New Jersey voters will vote on whether to create a fully taxed and regulated adult-use cannabis retail market in the Garden State. As Election Day draws near, activist groups have launched serious fundraising campaigns to advocate either for or against the initiative.
This Thursday, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) reported that proponents and opponents of the legalization initiative have raised more than $2 million, making this ballot measure one of the top ten most expensive campaigns in state history. But unlike other states that are voting on adult-use measures this year, New Jersey prohibitionists are not putting up much of a fight.
Pro-cannabis groups have raised nearly 200 times more money than prohibition groups, election officials report. Out of more than $2 million in total fundraising, prohibition groups were only able to raise around $10,000. The two largest contributors backing the legalization proposal are NJ CAN 2020, a coalition of social justice organizations, and the Building Stronger Communities Action Fund, which is largely funded by the Scotts Company, makers of Miracle-Gro.
The primary anti-cannabis campaign, Don't Let NJ Go to Pot, Inc., had only raised $9,688 by October 2nd, and hasn't added much cash to their pot since then. The two major pro-weed campaigns had raised nearly $1,275,000 by that same date, exceeding the anti-pot campaign by a factor of 130 to 1. Advocacy groups have used this funding to create several ads highlighting the social injustice inherent in jailing people for minor cannabis crimes.
“Whether or not this year’s ballot question election turns out to be a true blockbuster in terms of funds spent, early reports show it already is among the top ten ballot questions in the state’s history,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle in a press release. “The vote also is historic since it is the first marijuana-related public question to appear before New Jersey voters.”
Unlike other adult-use states, New Jersey's ballot initiative was created by local lawmakers rather than an activist group. Governor Phil Murphy has been advocating for legal weed since he took office in 2018, but lawmakers failed to follow through on passing an adult-use bill. Last winter, lawmakers gave up the fight and decided to allow the state's voters to decide the question for themselves. Governor Murphy is still in full support of legalization, and according to recent polls, so are more than two-thirds of the state's voters.
In the likely event that the ballot question is approved, the state's existing medical marijuana commission will take charge of drafting new regulations governing the adult-use market. It is currently unknown when legal weed sales could start, but a state Senator has unveiled a new plan that could let sales begin within weeks.