Experts fear N.J. has lost chance to lead (and thus gain best economic benefits of) cannabis industry

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Mar 26, 2019 at 6:30 am

As Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey legislative leaders assured the public Monday afternoon that the pursuit of the legalization of recreational marijuana is not dead, lawyers and business leaders noted Monday’s canceled vote does kill the state’s chances of leading the industry in the region.

With New York and Pennsylvania also pursuing legalization, New Jersey may have let the opportunity to be a leader in the new industry slip away, according to Cooper Levenson lawyer Jill Sheff Ojserkis.

Ojserkis, who represents clients interested in entering the legalized business, said companies from all over have been investing significantly in a variety of ways in the state to stay abreast of and lobby for legalization.

“The bigger companies have their ears open throughout the country, particularly in the more highly populated areas such as the Northeast, and they pretty much have an idea of what’s going on,” she said.

“Will those companies who were looking in New Jersey, and spent a lot of time and money so far … will they still be there? Will they have moved to other areas?”

Another loss will be to the state and its coffers.

“One of the reasons we were going to do legalization was economic opportunity and lowering property taxes. I wonder what happens to the budget now,” Ojserkis said.

There was an estimated $60 million in revenue in Murphy’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal.

Osjerskis’ sentiments were echoed by other lawyers, including Charles Gormally and John Fanburg of Brach Eichler.

The two said in a joint statement Monday that, with New York and Pennsylvania eyeing legalization, “Our state has lost the momentum that the Garden State had created.”

“It is now unlikely that New Jersey can be the first to create the adult-use marketplace in the region and, with it, its ability (to) capture and benefit financially from this new business model,” Gormally and Fanburg said.

“Sadly, this also means that New Jersey will not benefit from the thousands of jobs that this new business would have created in New Jersey; the stimulation of local real estate markets in undesirable business locations, which are fertile ground for cannabis business; and, of course, the millions of dollars of sorely needed tax revenue for the state and for municipalities.”

Some advocates remain optimistic.

One such is Archer attorney Bill Caruso.

He told ROI-NJ that many feel the fight to legalize won’t come back up until after the Assembly elections in November, but he believes it could be as early as May or June.

“It’s still a live ball,” Caruso said.

“We see clearly where some of the problems are.”

The state’s three political leaders said Monday that the fight isn’t over, and that legalization will inevitably happen.

“We’re still on it and we will get there,” Murphy said.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) was keen to point out that, amid the constant media attention on tension between himself and the governor, this bill proved the willingness to work together.

“I’ve been in the Legislature for a few years now, and there is not a bill I spent more time on, personally, in meetings with the governor and the sponsors, than this bill,” Sweeney said.

“It showed … that the three of us do know how to work together, and we do work together.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said the bills sought to create a new industry and change the status quo — both of which are not easy tasks.

“We still have a way to go, apparently, but it’s not a goal that we can’t achieve,” he said. “We’ll get back to work and figure what it is we need to do.

“We didn’t get a touchdown, but we moved the ball to the 1-yard line.”

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem