Atlantic City has been recently undergoing strong financial hardships with 4 casinos recently shutting down, eliminating a massive portion of the city’s tax revenue. It is the first New Jersey municipality in 78 years to be on the brink of bankruptcy. The economic crisis facing the city has forced lawmakers to contemplate a different way of running things. State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has put together a bill that would legalize adult recreational marijuana within the city limits. The move to create marijuana business in the state would, once again, put Atlantic City on the map as a tourist destination. It would allow the city to avoid going bankrupt and furthermore, allow it to thrive.
A Familiar Scenario for Atlantic City
In 1976, when Atlantic City faced a previous economic crisis, the citizens of New Jersey voted to allow Atlantic City to operate legalized gambling casinos. The move saved the city and put it on the map again. City officials are hoping that the creation of a legalized marijuana industry will produce the same results. Gov. Chris Christie signed a 2-bill rescue package that forces Atlantic City officials to create a 5-year plan for budget solvency by October this year or there will be a state takeover.
The Urgency for Marijuana Business in Atlantic City
The new bill was presented to legislature on Thursday and, if it passes, it will let New Jersey voters choose whether or not Atlantic City survives the current crisis with legalized marijuana business. Gusciora said to Philadelphia Magazine, “Unfortunately, you people from Pennsylvania are no longer coming into our state for the casinos. People aren’t coming from Delaware or New York either, because there are plenty of casinos there. By passing recreational marijuana legalization, we can attract a whole new crop of tourists, whether you’re from the Woodstock generation or in your 20s. Either way, you win.”
More Than an Issue of Money
For Gusciora, who is also a municipal prosector, the issue is more than just a financial one. New Jersey marijuana arrests now make up 57 percent of drug possession charges and they are disproportionately targeted towards people of color. He said, “I see college kids coming in all the time who now have criminal records. The cops have better things to do. They could concentrate on bad criminals.”
Proposed Division of Marijuana Revenue
The legislature proposes that marijuana business will be taxed at 20 percent of market price. Of the 20 percent, 50 percent will go to Atlantic City’s general fund, 30 percent would finance road projects and 10 percent would go towards decreasing drug use. The remaining 10 percent would fund women’s health, family planning and public health and safety programs.
With Nevada residents voting on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this November 8th, the pressure is on for Atlantic City to stay competitive with Las Vegas. Gusciora explained, “It’s a challenge if they can even meet the milestones the state has set up. The thing they need is to generate real dollars — something Atlantic City can’t do on its own, and generate more tourists.” Gusciora is hopeful that the bill will pass legislature before June 30th, which is when the summer recess commences.