NJ won't be next Colorado in pot revenues

Employees help customers at the crowded sales counter inside a legal recreational marijuana retail outlet in Denver on Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Legalizing recreational marijuana is expected to inject $208 million into Colorado’s economy this year, but New Jersey will have to settle for the potential $1 million it could get by taxing the 1,500 sick people who qualify for the medical version of the drug.

Gov. Christie has promised to veto any legislation that would expand the state’s four-year-old medical marijuana program and has said he would never approve the complete legalization of cannabis.

Reluctantly, he agreed last summer to sign a bill allowing edible marijuana to be sold to chronically ill children. They cannot smoke, and the law had banned edibles such as marijuana brownies or butter.

But when Christie was asked at a press conference a few weeks ago whether he would support a bill that would allow these children to obtain an edible from out-of-state dispensaries  — because it is not yet available in New Jersey — he became angry.

“Here’s what the advocates (of medical marijuana) want. They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. … It will not happen on my watch, ever,” he said, adding that he would not support any more changes in the medical marijuana program.

In other states, such as Colorado, some doctors have reported success in treating children with cannabis to control their life-threatening epileptic seizures. 

Colorado is also a pioneer when it comes to recreational marijuana.  On Jan. 1, it became the first state in the country to permit the sale of recreational weed at licensed retail outlets. Clients must be 21 or older. People who are sick, however, can still obtain the drug, with a doctor’s permission, regardless of age.

Media reports say ArcView Market Research, which studies marijuana markets, is projecting that Colorado’s economy will get a $208 million boost because the state has imposed nearly 28 percent in sales and special taxes on sales of the recreational version of the drug.

Colorado does not tax medical marijuana. So patients who get a doctor’s recommendation to use the drug can obtain it at a lower cost.

The Christie administration, however, has imposed the state’s 7 percent sales tax on medical marijuana purchases. The decision, made in 2012, was controversial because the state does not tax prescription medicines or over-the-counter drugs.

While it is not known yet exactly how much the state will reap from this new sales tax, the maximum it stands to receive as of now can be calculated by multiplying the number of registered patients — currently 1,500 — by the tax they are likely to pay if all of them purchased the maximum two ounces a month allowed under the law.

The dispensary that opened in Egg Harbor in September is charging $400 an ounce, which means each patient who bought the maximum amount of the drug would pay $9,600 yearly for the drug, plus $672 in sales tax.

However, prices of the substance are likely to decline, both as dispensaries’ pay off their opening expenses and as more dispensaries open.