A new bill slated to be introduced Thursday could make Atlantic City the only municipality in New Jersey to legalize marijuana. That effort comes as the city tries to mitigate the toll out-of-state competition has taken on its one-time monopoly. Unless the city can balance its budget with deep cuts and new revenue, it could face a state takeover of its finances this fall.
The measure’s primary sponsor Reed Gusciora (D-15) said he believes legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana could help the beleaguered tourist town “deal with the competitive disadvantage realistically.”
Though the bill would face an uphill battle due to firm opposition to legalization of any kind from Governor Chris Christie, Gusciora said city-wide legalization could help the casino town compete with Las Vegas, and with its more recent rivals in neighboring states.
Asked whether his bill can clear the legislature before the summer recess begins on June 30, Gusciora said it may fall by the wayside as lawmakers scramble to finalize the state’s 2017 budget and reach a compromise on funding the Transportation Trust Fund.
“I doubt that, only because of the legislative process,” Gusciora said. “But nonetheless, let’s keep in mind that Nevada has legalized marijuana on the ballot.
“We continue to lose patrons from Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania, and this would be the way of retracting a lot of the patrons that used to visit Atlantic City.”
Medical marijuana is currently legal statewide for certain chronic medical conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Crohn’s disease. Christie has argued that expanding the medical marijuana program could create a back road to statewide legalization, which he opposes.
Christie previously vetoed a bill to offer medical marijuana to patients suffering with PTSD, a measure that goes back to the Assembly floor tomorrow with Gusciora as a primary sponsor. Gusciora pointed to an Israeli study that found marijuana may help relieve symptoms, and to that country’s expansive medical marijuana program.
“Republicans in Congress are talking about this, and I think that you want to be supportive of that,” he said. “We have a serious problem with PTSD. At least 20 percent of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a lot of psychological difficulties.
“I think this is one more tool to deal with veteran’s injuries, and it’s a learning curve. And more and more Republicans are supportive of PTSD.”
As for the possibility of an expanded medical marijuana paving the way for legalization, Gusciora cited the decade-long rollout of a less restrictive program in California. That state will put the question of legalizing recreational use to voters in November.
“That certainly could be the argument in California, but New Jersey has the most strict marijuana law in the nation as far as medical aid goes,” Gusciora said. “And we’re ailment-specific. You go to California, you just need a doctor’s prescription. Your doctor feels that you can use marijuana for a broken fingernail, and get a recommendation, then you can have it.”
Gusciora’s bills joins a renewed effort from Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) to legalize medical marijuana across the state. Scutari said at a State House press conference Tuesday that he expects to get his bill through the legislature before the end of this year’s session.