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A legislative competition is underway on the East Coast as both New York and New Jersey seek to shape the framework of recreational cannabis policy for their region.

Prior to assuming office in January of 2018, New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy (D), campaigned for the state to legalize cannabis. Shortly after taking the oath of office, Murphy stated, “A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces criminal justice reform comprehensively, and that includes a process to legalize marijuana.” Progress to legalize in New Jersey, however, has not yet gathered enough support for a formal motion to vote on the matter.

Now, New York hopes to become the first state to legalize in the region. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has previously publicly criticized the legalization of cannabis, indicated an evolving political landscape for New York in the upcoming year. In a speech dedicated to outlining his agenda for 2019, Cuomo also included cannabis within his goals for criminal justice reforms, asserting, “Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.“

Although both states have expressed interest in cannabis legalization, work still needs to be done before either can achieve that goal. In the case of New Jersey, where Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) first introduced a bill to legalize in 2014, the state would still need to resolve several issues in their current cannabis bill. Namely, there would need to be an agreed tax rate, in addition to the establishment of a regulatory committee. New York lawmakers have yet to propose related legislation, but, according to a Quinnipiac poll released January 24, a significant majority of NY voters support cannabis legalization.

In recent years, reforms in drug policy regarding recreational cannabis have succeeded primarily in the western portion of the U.S. and New England. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, and Massachusetts are among the 10 states that have successfully passed related legislation. Entering into 2019, New York and New Jersey both hope to capitalize on the East’s notable absence of state recreational cannabis laws.

Whichever state succeeds in legalizing first is expected to receive a significant financial boost. In the case of Colorado, legalization created a boom for state tourism with an estimated 17% of the total visitors in 2017 spending roughly $287 million on “marijuana tourism.” Coming in second would mean less potential tax revenue.

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