The lead advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey, state Sen. Nick Scutari, will hold a hearing on Monday on aÂ legislative blueprint he introduced in May.
Gov. Chris Christie is a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use. But Christieâ€™s term expires in seven months and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy is a proponent of legalization. The Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, says she supports decriminalizing the drug but not full legalization.
Scutari said the hearing â€” which will include testimony from industry experts, medical professionals and law enforcement officials â€” is part of an effort to ensure that the Legislature conducts a thorough review before ushering in any legalization program. The hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Scutari chairs, is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the legislative annex in Trenton.
â€œNow is the time to begin shaping New Jerseyâ€™s recreational marijuana program,â€� Scutari (D-Union), the municipal prosecutor in Linden, said in a statement. â€œWe will have a new governor next year and we should be prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely.â€�
Under Scutariâ€™s bill, New Jersey would allow residents 21 and over to posses up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of infused solid products, or 72 ounces of liquid products.
Taxes on the drug would start at 7 percent until gradually reaching 25 percent over five years.
The revenue generated by recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey is expected to reach $300 million annually, according to estimates by the pro-legalization group New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The group also estimates that the criminal justice system will eliminate $127 million in yearly expenses related to marijuana enforcement. A more recent estimate by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey estimates enforcement costs slightly higher, at $143 million a year.
â€œWe know that legalizing marijuana will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, the creation of thousands of jobs and a substantial increase in economic activity,â€� Scutari said. â€œIt will also mean savings for law enforcement, safer streets, and importantly, a fairer way of treating our residents.â€�
Reactions to the initial legislation were mixed with pro-legalization groups like the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance claiming that Scutariâ€™s bill leans too much toward the cannabis industry and does not do enough to help those penalized under current law. Unlike other statesâ€™ recreational marijuana programs, Scutariâ€™s bill does not include a provision for homegrown cannabis.
So far, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana but New Jerseyâ€™s proposal would make it the first state to legalize cannabis without first decriminalizing it, and the first to do so through legislation and not a constitutional amendment.
A report by the ACLU-NJ released Thursday found that the state is making more arrests for marijuana possession than at any other point â€” one every 22 minutes on average â€” and that racial disparities in those arrests are at an all-time high.
â€œNew Jerseyâ€™s arrest practices for marijuana possession illustrate the failure of marijuana enforcement,â€� the report says. â€œThey have a devastating impact of aggressive, costly, racially disparate punishment for use of a drug that for adults is less dangerous than alcohol.â€�
While recreational marijuana use is illegal under current New Jersey law, the state has had a medical marijuana program since 2010. Scutariâ€™s bill would repeal the tax on medical marijuana.
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