EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is hosting an online symposium on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. The webinar, What Doctors Should Know About Cannabis, will address pressing questions healthcare professionals have about medical marijuana. Here’s how to sign up.

By Smoke Wallin

The pandemic has plunged America and New Jersey into a historic economic decline. Tens of millions have lost their jobs, including more than a million in the Garden State. Thousands of bankruptcies have been filed.

And at the state level, the recession is creating unprecedented budget deficits.

Gov. Phil Murphy was recently compelled to borrow money in order to shore up his state’s $9.9 billion gap. Even with that bill, these budget shortfalls will eventually force politicians to make tough decisions and ultimately threaten to reduce essential services including education, health care, public safety and transportation.

In this new world where our financial health is being held hostage by the pandemic, states must take action to balance their budgets. The federal government is unlikely to fill the gap no matter who wins in November. With the economy not expected to fully rebound for years to come, officials need to get resourceful and creative to find revenue streams. One proven source to help alleviate the budget strain is marijuana (cannabis) legalization.

U.S. Medical and recreation cannabis sales will exceed $15 billion this year, a 40% jump from 2019, and estimates project it to reach $37 billion by 2024. In New Jersey alone, where recreational cannabis is on the ballot this November, hundreds of millions in revenue would be generated. That substantial windfall will help keep teachers employed, allow residents to receive proper medical care, and keep our communities safe with the resources they need.

The cannabis industry has also proven to be nearly recession-proof during the pandemic. Sales were deemed essential in states where it has been legalized.

In neighboring Pennsylvania cannabis dispensaries did $385 million in business since February, more than they had during the previous two years combined.

In Colorado, the cannabis industry set a record in monthly cannabis product sales in June, nearly $200 million.

And in Illinois, which legalized cannabis this year, the state set a record in July for sales. In just the first six months of the year, it recouped $52 million in tax revenue, far exceeding initial estimates.

These are just a few examples of how the industry will be a boost in revenue for New Jersey. But it would have the added benefit of creating thousands of jobs across the state. Those newly employed consumers will increase their buying capacity and help local businesses. The ripple effect will be profound at a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

Millions of Americans have already embraced the potential upside of cannabis. Thirty-five states now allow either recreational or medicinal marijuana, including 11 recreationally.

Studies have shown these states experience additional advantages beyond financial gain like a decrease in drug use by teens, an increase in consumer safety because of regulations, a reduction in law enforcement costs, and a phasing out of black-market use.

Even on the federal level, which at times has been at odds with state legislatures, the House of Representatives is moving forward on cannabis reform. They have adopted provisions to protect medical legalization laws from federal interference and ease marijuana companies’ access to banking services.

What’s holding up common-sense policy and a path to easing the looming financial crisis that could benefit millions of Americans? The pharmaceutical companies. That’s what stopped the New Jersey Legislature last year and is holding up FDA approval of ingestible forms of CBD from hemp. The pharma industry views cannabis products as competition, which would cause them to lose market share, have fewer of their products purchased, and impact their bottom line.

With increasing evidence of cannabis playing a positive role in remedies for sleeplessness, pain, anxiety and a variety of other serious medical conditions, I can understand their fear. Cannabis is increasingly being shown to be a natural solution that can replace or supplement their multi-billion dollar franchises.

By helping the state absorb the impact of this unprecedented challenge, passing cannabis legalization will promote job growth and help preserve important services residents in New Jersey have come to expect and deserve.

Taking action and voting this November will prove to be an indispensable tool on multiple fronts.

Smoke Wallin is CEO of Vertical Wellness, a leading multi-national vertically integrated brand company in the cannabis and hemp industry.

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