Convinced by Colorado’s success, N.J. lawmaker continues push to legalize recreational pot

New Jersey Sen. Nick Scutari

New Jersey Sen. Nick Scutari

A New Jersey lawmaker says the regulated marijuana industry in Colorado seems to be working well and believes legalizing it in New Jersey wound increase employment and state tax revenue.

Senator Nick Scutari said he saw nothing detrimental from the legalization of marijuana in the Colorado towns he visited during a three-day fact-finding trip. No one was using it outside the dispensaries where the products are displayed securely, he said.

“I heard from officials there is a significant decrease in adolescent usage in marijuana since the legalization occurred two years ago as well as a significant decrease in opioid use which seems to be gripping our nation all over,” said Scutari, D-Union. “There has also been a decrease in veterans suicide rates since the legalization has taken place.”

Colorado took in more than $100 million in taxes and fees last year from legal marijuana sales, he said.

Gov. Chris Christie opposes legalizing recreational marijuana, but Scutari said he hopes the next governor will consider it.

“When you tell an incoming administration with myriad of financial problems that we have with respect to pension shortfalls and a systemic shortfall every year in our budgetary process and we talk to them about a quarter to a half of a billion dollars a year in direct tax revenue and savings in law enforcement efforts, I don’t know how you don’t open your mind to that,” Scutari said.

Scutari said he’s moving ahead with the legalization effort and expects to draft a bill within the next few months for lawmakers to consider.

“Starting something of this complex nature — and doing it right — takes some time, but we’re going to move the ball down the field,” he said. “We’re going to have more hearings, and we’re going to have votes,  and we need to work on my colleagues because not everyone is there yet, not everyone is comfortable.”

Scutari said New Jersey should legalize marijuana by passing legislation, not by putting it on the ballot like Colorado did.

“Their administration’s hands are a little tied on some of the things that they can do because they have to go back to the voters. That’s why lawmakers can’t shirk their responsibilities and put this on the ballot,” he said. “We should do the job of crafting a finely tuned bill by virtue of the mistakes that were made from other states.”

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