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Legislators To Murphy On NJ Cannabis Reform: Not So Fast

Some legislators are hesitant to support Governor Phil Murphy’s call for NJ cannabis reform.

Senators Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) Ron Rice (D-Essex), Dick Codey (D-Essex), Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), and Brian Stack (D-Hudson) are for cannabis reform.

NJ Legislators’ Cannabis Reluctance

Two additional Senate Democrats, Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) and James Beach (D-Camden), said they are willing to consider decriminalization. But they are not yet ready to vote “yes” on a recreational NJ cannabis reform bill. They cite concerns with intoxicated drivers and unintended social justice consequences as reasons for their opposition.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Phil Murphy consistently championed the need to legalize recreational cannabis.

Data shows that New Jersey is predicted to bring at least $300 million in revenue from legalization. Some have made predictions for much higher amounts. 

Murphy says it is really a social justice issue that is behind the need to legalize cannabis in New Jersey. Arrests have disproportionately affected minorities. During his inaugural address, Murphy restated the need to reform New Jersey’s criminal justice system with cannabis as a cornerstone to the remedy.

Bipartisan Decriminalization Versus Full Legalization

The issue cuts through party lines in many instances. Sen. Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) said he has “an open mind” on recreational pot. He wanted to be aware of the details of any proposed legislation before making a decision on legalization. Another Republican, Assemblyman Patrick Carroll (R-Morris) has introduced additional legislation to legalize cannabis in New Jersey.

“I think your math is wrong,” Scutari said regarding the legislators’ opposition. “This is a process. People will want to — and should — read and review the entire bill before making a decision. … Keeping marijuana illegal just makes drug dealers richer.”

Two other Republicans, Senators Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), are willing to consider decriminalization. However, they were not yet willing to support legalizing for recreational use. However, 11 of 15 Republican state senators said they would vote “no” on any bill legalizing weed.

NJ Cannabis Reform Options

The legalization discussion has been dominated by Senator Nick Scutari’s (D-Union) bill. However, there are additional bills advanced by legislators for NJ cannabis reform.

In addition to Scutari’s bill (S830), Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) introduced A 1348, and Assemblyman Carroll is introduced A 1557. S 380 could be described as the most conservative of the bills. A1557, introduced by a Republican, is the most liberal of the bills.

Some legislators are arguing that before legalization is addressed, the disproportionate rates of incarceration and criminality need to be addressed. Others say that while they are willing and open to legalizing cannabis, Scutari’s bill needs considerable changes before being supported. They don’t feel Scutari’s bill comes close to what the state really needs. Others feel Scutari’s bill is too lenient.

Some legislators want to see automatic expungements of criminal records, which are part of A1557 but not the other two bills, depending on the types of charges and offenses.

There is a strong push from Governor Murphy for the legislators to learn and support legal cannabis and act. There is time to reach out to your representatives and help educate them on the importance of this issue in New Jersey. Most issues go through considerable debate and changes when being considered in New Jersey. This is such an important issue. It must be done correctly and benefit all, not just those in positions to make huge profits and windfall taxes.

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