With Gambling Profits Dwindling, New Jersey Politicians See Legal Weed as a Path to Financial Safety
Atlantic City’s appeal is slowing to a crawl, but Democratic lawmakers are hoping to regain an East Coast advantage by beating neighboring states to legal weed.
Published on September 15, 2017

In the not so distant past, America’s legal gamblers were largely restricted to only two places for government approved slot machines and blackjack games: the deserts of Nevada or New Jersey’s neon-soaked Atlantic City. However, lenient state laws and the prevalence of Native American casinos have turned AC into a ghost town, and left New Jersey lawmakers looking for a new ace in the hole to boost their current state funding.

According to Bloomberg News, a number of Garden State politicians are looking towards legalizing cannabis for that exact reason, with all indicators pointing to recreational cannabis legislation passing in 2018, and pot shops opening their door to the general public in 2019.

Since 2006, New Jersey’s gambling revenue dropped sharply, with 12 casinos shutting their doors entirely, and 11,000 jobs disappearing into the ocean air.

“God knows we need every penny we can find,” Phil Murphy, the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race front runner, said. “That’s $300 million to $500 million we don’t have at the moment that we could use.”

State lawmakers have already taken trips to Colorado to research the state’s thriving legal weed industry, and are confident that New Jersey could up a system for recreational retail sales before neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania, regaining some of the tax-padding exclusivity that Atlantic City’s gambling industry once provided.

“Colorado went from 40th in job growth to No. 4,” State Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “It’s becoming one of the youngest states in the nation -- they have a growth explosion because people are moving there.” 

A majority of New Jersey residents already support cannabis legalization, but current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has opposed cannabis for his entire political career and made it impossible for legalization to make waves in the Garden State. Christie is on his way out though, and with Murphy holding a 25% edge in the polls, state Democrats are already preparing legalization legislation that they hope will be signed into law within the next Governor’s first 100 days.

Under that best-case-scenario plan, New Jersey advocates hope to have recreational pot shops up, running and providing much needed tax dollars by the beginning of 2019. That timeline would put the Garden State well ahead of New York and Pennsylvania, where the powers that be have been far less progressive on the prospect of Colorado-style retail dispensaries. 

“It’s not a structural ‘How-the-hell-would-you-do-it?’ legislation,” New York Senator Liz Krueger said in an interview, decrying the slow-to-start path of Empire State cannabis laws. “The public is ahead of the political comfort level here.”

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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