New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the most cantankerous cannabis oppositions in the United States, has vowed to set fire to any legislation begging to legalize marijuana in his state. But that has not prevented the state legislature from moving forward with a hearing, the first of its kind in state history, aimed at hashing out the details for how the Garden State could benefit from establishing a taxed and regulated pot market similar to Colorado.
Earlier last week, Senator Nicholas Scutari, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced plans to hear a piece of legislation he introduced nearly a year-and-a-half ago in an attempt to rival arguments against the issue with a legion of vocal supporters. As part of the testimony, which was set to get underway on Monday, Scutari has assembled a band of influential members of the community, including law enforcement officials, health professionals, and clergymen, who will divulge their reasoning for getting behind a bill aimed at putting an end to prohibitionary times.
“There is no question that we need to update our archaic drug laws in this country and the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana,” Senator Scutari said. “This is a fact-finding hearing that we hope will help to continue to inform the committee and the Legislature as we take up this very important issue. This is a first step in the process of finally reversing our punitive marijuana laws that have caused harm to our residents and our communities.”
Although Governor Christie remains adamantly opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana, some of the latest polls indicate a great deal of support throughout the state for this level of reform. The latest Farleigh Dickson University survey found that almost 50 percent of New Jersey residents favored making changes to the drug laws that would free the leaf. Yet, the latest statistics from the ACLU shows that New Jersey continues to spend around $127 million every year to bust more than 20,000 people for minor pot possession.
In February, a coalition called New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, which is comprised of ACLU members, law enforcement and city prosecutors, announced the combining of their collective resources in an effort to begin lobbying in the state legislature for a bill that would allow marijuana to be taxed and regulated across the state in a manner similar to alcohol. The group said it was “time to take marijuana out of our parks, and off of our street corners, and put it behind the counter.”
Several members of the coalition were expected to make a showing at Monday’s hearing, especially considering that Senator Scutari’s proposal falls right in line with their agenda.
“We have to take a more reasonable approach to the regulation of marijuana,” Scutari said. “Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana will bring it out of the underground market, making the product and our communities safer. It will allow law enforcement to re-dedicate their resources to where they are most needed. In addition, it will create revenue for the state to help fund critical programs and services for our residents. This is an opportunity to hear from stakeholders and the public about the best way to do that.”
Monday’s hearing was set only to discuss marijuana legalization. There was no action taken on the issue.
What do you think? Do New Jerseyans deserve the right to cannabis? Tell us in the comments below.