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New Jersey Likely to Elect a Governor Determined to Legalize Marijuana

A legalization bill is sailing through the Legislature and Democrat Phil Murphy has pledged to sign it. He has a commanding lead in the polls.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The old complaint about there not being a dime’s worth of difference between two candidates does not apply in the New Jersey governor’s race -- especially when the issue is the legalization of marijuana.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

In one corner is Democrat Phil Murphy. He not only supports creating a legal recreational marijuana market in New Jersey, he also plans to sign a bill to allow it within the first 100 days of office. That would make The Garden State the ninth state -- the others are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia -- to approve adult-use marijuana sales. In the other corner is Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, who like outgoing Governor Chris Christie, does not favor legalizing recreational marijuana. Unlike Christie, Guadagno is OK, however, with decriminalizing possession of small amounts marijuana.

All the other eight states approved sales of recreational marijuana through a voter referendum. In a way, New Jersey voters are getting the same chance through the governor’s race. The election is set for Nov. 7.

Related: 5 Tips for Breaking Into the 'Budding' Marijuana Industry

Murphy’s Arguments

Cannabis is expected to generate more than $21 billion in sales across the country by 2021. In California alone, sales could reach as much as $15 billion a year. Clearly, there is an enormous amount of money to be made by private entrepreneurs, but also huge tax revenues for the state.

By one estimate, legalizing adult recreational marijuana would yield $300 million in new revenue for New Jersey -- which is now staring down a $1 billion budget shortfall -- but criminal justice reform, not money, is why Murphy says he supports legalized marijuana. A study by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that marijuana usage is equally common among white and black New Jersey residents but African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested.

Murphy argues that making the sale of cannabis legal through a regulated state system, and decriminalizing personal possession, will end a major cause of the higher arrest and conviction rates for African-Americans in New Jersey.

In the final debate between the two, Murphy said that “the fact of the matter” is that New Jersey has “the widest white/non-white gap of persons incarcerated in America...the biggest contributing factor is our low-end drug crimes.''

He also paints legalizing marijuana as a practical step for law enforcement.  On his website, Murphy says he wants to “legalize marijuana so police can focus resources on violent crime.”

Related: Women Increasingly Are Cannabis Entrepreneurs and Customers

Guadagno’s Arguments

Guadagno, on the other hand, opposes legalized recreational marijuana. Her stance on the issue mirrors that of Christie, a virulent opponent of marijuana who once called legalization “beyond stupidity” and accused marijuana advocates of wanting to “poison our kids.”

However, Guandagno also said that, unlike Christie, she would make it easier for people to have access to medical marijuana, which is already legal in the state but tightly restricted.

Related: Medical Cannabis Finds an Eager Market In Floridian Retirees

Guadagno, who previously served as sheriff of Monmouth County, evoked the opioid crisis and higher taxes in the last debate against Murphy when asked about legalized marijuana. She said legalized marijuana “falls under Murphy’s law – any tax that can be raised, will be raised.”

Marijuana taxes and fees in other states are levied only on marijuana businesses. Marijuana sales taxes apply only to sales of marijuana products.

She also noted that a report from Colorado indicated traffic deaths had increased with marijuana. And she said supporting legalized marijuana sends the wrong message when the state is dealing with the opioid crisis.

Related: Colorado Study Links Marijuana Legalization to Decline In Fatal Opioid Overdoses

However, a study released just this month shows opioid deaths dropped in Colorado in the first two years with recreational marijuana sales, reversing an upward trend overdose deaths that started in 2000.

Murphy currently has a lead in the race, with polls giving him anywhere from a 13 percent to 25 percent advantage.

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