Are you sick of the election? Are you thinking about staying home on Election Day? DON’T. Here’s why.
If 2020’s endless bickering over politics has exhausted you, there is an issue on New Jersey ballots this year that could intensify the debate even more.
State voters will decide whether the New Jersey Constitution should be amended to legalize a controlled form of marijuana.
In other words, state voters will decide whether smoking a joint will be a constitutional right, like the freedom of speech and religion, if you’re 21,
The marijuana referendum will join two other questions on state ballots.
The second question asks whether all veterans who served in the military should receive a $250 property tax deduction and a 100% property tax exemption for all veterans who became disabled during their service. The property tax deductions apply now only to veterans who served during wartime.
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The third question is more convoluted and politically esoteric. It involves the redrawing of state legislative districts which is done every 10 years after the Census.
But, because the pandemic has delayed the Census, the state may not get the population numbers by Feb. 15, which would not be enough time to redraw the districts before candidates file for the June primary.
The question would allow state senators and assembly members to run next year for two-year terms in their existing districts before the new districts are created.
It’s just as confusing as it sounds.
Most of the attention, however, will be on the marijuana question, an issue that has roiled the state for years.
The question would legalize cannabis products for people at least 21 years old.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which now oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, would also oversee the new cannabis market.
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Of course there’s money involved. The state sales tax would apply to all sales of cannabis products.
And there is a revenue sweetener for towns. If the Legislature approves, municipalities will be allowed to pass a local ordinance to charge a tax on cannabis products. That money could be used to lower property taxes.
Simply, the local tax you pay on cannabis could conceivably help fund your public schools, fill a pothole – no pun intended – or your police department.
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In April, a Monmouth University poll found that 61% of state voters back a referendum measure legalizing recreational marijuana. Support was highest among Democrats (74%) and unaffiliated voters (64%) but Republicans were less pot-friendly with only 40% in favor.
Support for legalizing marijuana has grown since 2014, when a Monmouth poll said voters were split 48% in favor and 47% opposed.
If voters approve the measure, New Jersey would be the 12th state to fully legalize marijuana.
Legalizing marijuana for people over 21 was one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promises in 2017, with Murphy claiming a pot tax would generate about $300 million in state sales tax revenue But the legalization ran into resistance from more conservative Democrats in the state Legislature, which voted to put the question directly to voters.
Legalization questions are also on the ballot this year in Arizona, Montana and South Dakota. A medical marijuana question is on Mississippi’s ballot.
Towns in Central Jersey are split on the issue, with some municipalities passing zoning ordinances against stores selling cannabis while other towns would welcome the added tax money.
The property tax deduction for veterans is less controversial.
According to the state Office of Legislative Service, increasing the property tax deductions for all veterans would result in a about $13.6 million loss in revenue statewide.
The question would also extend the property tax deduction to the widow or widower after the veteran’s death.
The third question, though it may be the most complicated, may also have long-term implications for New Jersey’s political scene.
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The state’s 40 legislative districts are drawn once a decade after the state receives the Census numbers from the federal government. The Apportionment Commission, composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and an appointment by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, then draws the district map with the same population in each district. Both sides jockey to create “safe” districts where their party has an advantage.
This process changes the political landscape of New Jersey. Incumbents can either rest easy or face the challenge of winning over strange voters.
But, because the Census is delayed, the federal numbers may not arrive in time for the apportion process, traditionally a heated political battle, for next year’s June primary.
This question will allow the 2021 legislative elections to be held in the existing districts. Elections in the new districts will be held in 2023.
It’s an issue only politicians and political junkies can love.
Contributing: Terrence McDonald of NorthJersey.com
Mike Deak is a reporter for MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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