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The New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

ELEC: Don’t expect massive spending over marijuana referendum

Commission’s deputy director says measure will cost about as much as last year’s AirBNB question

By Nikita Biryukov, October 01 2020 10:41 am

The Election Law Enforcement Commission doesn’t expect the fight over a marijuana legalization ballot question to be flush with cash.

While officials expect the legalization referendum to have some odd millions behind it, they don’t believe it will break any spending records, ELEC Deputy Director Joe Donohue said in the commission’s monthly newsletter.

“More likely, this year’s ballot question duel is likely to end up closer to a 2019 local referendum in Jersey City that imposed new rules on short-term rentals despite heavy opposition from Airbnb,” he wrote. “It weighed in at $5.5 million.”

Last year’s referendum in Jersey City was the second most expensive in state history, only falling behind a 2016 referendum on North Jersey Casinos that saw nearly $25 million in spending.

The Jersey City referendum was still the most expensive local ballot question New Jersey had ever seen.

Per ELEC analysis, marijuana referendums in other states bore an average cost of about $8.3 million, but the commission doesn’t expect spending for the Garden State’s ballot initiative to get that high.

So far, only two groups — NJ CAN 2020 and Don’t Let NJ Go to Pot — have created committees with the intent of spending for or against the referendum. And while those groups likely won’t set any spending records, they’d still be well served by putting some money in, even if its just to make sure voters remember the presidency isn’t the only thing on the ballot.

“While there may not be megaspending, committees pro and con may have to spend some bucks to try to punch through all these distractions and grab the attention of voters,” Donohue said.

The marijuana referendum and the state’s two other ballot questions — one making peacetime veterans eligible for a property tax break offered to ones serving in wartime and another allowing the state to delay legislative reapportionment if it does not receive census data by Feb. 15 — can be found on the back side of mail-in ballots sent to all of New Jersey’s active registered voters.

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