The Assembly Committee on Oversight, Reform & Federal Relations heard testimony from advocates and opponents on marijuana legalization on Monday. The assembly hearing room was filled with great excitement and energy as people were eager to share their stories with the panel.
The hearing was not based around any specific bill, rather it served as an overall discussion and educational forum for lawmakers. Today’s hearing also served as an opportunity to establish a baseline of information for the committee.
There were numerous speakers from organizations such as New Jersey United For Marijuana Reform, ACLU, Sensible Approaches To Marijuana (SAM), law enforcement officers, physicians, and many others, on both sides of the issue. Testimony was heard for several hours enduring well into the evening.
Rob Cresson, chronic pain patient and advocate, said, “Legalization can help patients on the margins, who are currently under served by the New Jersey medical marijuana program.” After describing his journey in great detail he said, “I’ve got 99 problems, but addiction to opioids isn’t one of them… thanks to medical cannabis,” making reference to a Jay-Z song “99 Problems…”.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition For Medical Marijuana in NJ, described the difficulties patients face in the New Jersey medical marijuana program and the reasons to make sure the process is swiftly developed. “We do not need to slow down our progress … we need to speed this process up.”
Retired DEA Agent Jack Teitelman discussed how cannabis could help reduce the opioid crisis in NJ. “There is more good associated with legalization, [than bad].”
Dr. Andrew Medvedovsky, physician with, “We give our patients no viable options to opioids.” Medvedovsky treats patients with cannabis as an alternative to opioids and other dangerous treatments.
Dan Pabon, Colorado state representative, suggested to start collecting data now to be able to monitor trends. “Colorado has seen no increase in youth usage and a decline in opioid use.” He suggested that NJ start collecting data now, such as teen use, driving under the influence, and arrests, so that there is significant data to understand if legalization is working or not.
Committee Chair Danielson asked Pabon, “What did you do great in Colorado?”
Pabon responded, “In Colorado, we set the North Star to be the children. The winners were kids, and the losers were cartels and criminals.”
He continued, “The reason most people in Colorado wanting to regulate marijuana had nothing to do with usage. They wanted the tax [revenue]. Those dollars are going to youth education, which is one of the reasons why youth usage is down.”
Racial disparities and opportunities for the underprivileged were also a focus of the hearing. “Cannabis prohibition and legalization is inextricably linked to race. The capricious and arbitrary nature of the prohibition becomes clearer each day,” said Shannel Lyndsay, attorney and owner of Ardent, a cannabis industry business.
Todd Edwards from the NJ-NAACP described how marijuana prohibition has devastated communities of color. “Legalization must be fair and equitable and reinvest in those communities most harmed by the war on marijuana.”
Dr. David Nathan, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, told the committee, “Decriminalization leaves sales in hands of criminals. Products must be labeled and controlled, and only legalization does that. The “gateway drug” theory is a fictional invention of the 1950s.”
Responding to a question from the committee, “The science on cannabis will catch up once marijuana is legalized.”
Today’s hearing comes as Governor Murphy is expected to legalize cannabis for adult-use. Recently, he took measures to expand the medical marijuana program in New Jersey. Legal cannabis is expected to be at least a $300 million revenue source for the state.
There will be additional hearings throughout the state. Heady NJ will email the dates to our subscribers.