New Jersey lawmakers held their first hearing Monday on legalizing marijuana in the state.
The move to make marijuana legal for adults and taxing it would create a billion-dollar industry in the Garden State, said Sen. Nick Scutari.
“Indications on first year full rollout are $200,000 to $300,000 in just tax revenue, not to mention all the additional job creation and income tax that’s going to be derived from those new jobs,” said Scutari, D-Union.
Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU New Jersey, said police arrest more than 20,000 suspects on charges of marijuana possession every year in the state.
“It is time to take marijuana out of our parks and out of our street corners and into licensed stores for adults,” Ofer said. “It is time to stop turning otherwise law-abiding adults into criminals.”
Legalizing marijuana in New Jersey is also a civil rights priority, said Richard Smith, president of NAACP New Jersey.
“The application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied to people of color,” said Smith. “African-Americans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey than a white person — despite the fact that the usage rate is practically the same.”
Some Republican lawmakers oppose the move to make possession of less than an ounce of pot legal for those 21 and older.
Sen. Mike Doherty believes that marijuana is harmful.
“It lowers you IQ. It causes increased levels of schizophrenia in teenagers. It’s got a lot of carcinogens in it,” said Doherty of Somerset County. “It’s three to five times more dangerous than cigarette smoke.”
Sen. Kip Bateman is also against legalization.
“I’m very close to law enforcement, and they’re very concerned,” said Bateman, also of Somerset. “Marijuana this day and age is much different that it was 20 years ago. It’s much stronger, and they really think it’s a gateway drug to heroin.”
John Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors Association, rejected that argument.
“The only time marijuana plays a gateway role is when drug dealers on our street corners use marijuana sales as a gateway to selling New Jerseyans harder drugs,” Barr said.
Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly said he would not sign legislation to legalize pot for recreational use.