Friday Facts and Figures is a weekly newsletter with data points, analysis, and commentary on the biggest policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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COVID-19 Cases: 266,986 | Deaths: 14,694
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
Last Friday, state lawmakers quietly released a 200-plus page bill to legalize recreational marijuana and fast-tracked it for a vote this past Monday. The problem? The bill has a glaring omission: it did not tax legal marijuana like other states do, meaning there would be little-to-no revenue to invest in communities harmed most by the drug war or initiatives to advance social and racial justice. Instead, the bill would only apply the state sales tax of 6.625 percent (and allow a municipal tax of up to 2 percent) — and the revenue would go towards police and the state’s general fund. This is a big departure from the legalization proposal that almost passed last year, which applied an excise tax of $42 per ounce. Use this link from the ACLU NJ to tell your state lawmakers: legalization must center racial and social justice! [ACLU NJ / Act Now]
Some state lawmakers, as well as industry lobbyists, claim that taxing legal marijuana sales would keep the black market alive and thus cut into revenue collections. A simple look at the data, courtesy of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), shows that this is simply not the case. The state that brings in the most tax revenue from legal marijuana sales (after adjusting for population) is the state with the highest tax rate: Washington. Most states that already have a functioning legal market for marijuana have sales and excise taxes between 20 percent and 46 percent; in 2019, these states brought in a collective $1.9 billion in revenue. Further, ITEP (as well as NJPP) recommends taxing legal marijuana by weight, as opposed to a sales tax, to keep revenue stable as the price of legal marijuana goes down with increased supply. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy / Carl Davis]
Now for some good marijuana news: On Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee approved a bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana. This bill is fully separate from, but just as necessary as, the proposal to set up the regulatory framework for a legal marijuana market. As it stands, approximately 100 people are arrested for marijuana possession everyday in New Jersey. This bill, if passed by the full Legislature and signed into law by Governor Murphy, removes criminal penalties for possession and distribution of small amounts of marijuana — and also psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. “Justice for marijuana doesn’t start until arrests stop,” said Chris Goldstein of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “And the constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis doesn’t do that, but this bill could.” [The Philadelphia Inquirer / Sam Wood]
The second wave is here. On Thursday, New Jersey registered 3,517 new cases of COVID-19, representing the fourth time in six days that the state had more than 3,000 new cases. Health officials believe the spread is linked to indoor gatherings and recommend that residents continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. “This is a wake-up call,” said state Health Commissioner Judith Perschilli. “We need your help. If we continue on this trajectory, our state will return to the situation we were in last spring.” When asked what he would say to residents who find wearing masks uncomfortable and annoying, Governor Murphy responded, ”You know what’s really uncomfortable and annoying? When you die.” [NJ.com / Brent Johnson]
NJPP President Brandon McKoy was on NJ Spotlight News earlier this week to discuss the proposed bill to legalize marijuana, specifically the need for it to advance racial and social justice. “To add insult to injury … a lot of funds [from marijuana sales] go to the police,” Brandon said. “To have that, while still having nothing — literally nothing — go towards communities is bad optics, to say the least.” [NJ Spotlight News / David Cruz]
Pets of NJPP
Welcome back Mau, my co-working cat, for another Pets of NJPP feature. Mau had a vet appointment earlier this week and got some great news — he’s cured of FIP, a deadly form of cat coronavirus (unrelated to COVID-19). Mau was a real trooper this past few months and will be eating lots of treats this weekend to celebrate the good news!
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