Senate Panel Considers Effects of Legalizing Cannabis

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony advocating for the legalization of cannabis in New Jersey.

By David Cruz

“I just want to be clear for everybody, there will be no opposition people testifying today.”

That was one caveat Senator Joe Kyrillos wanted to note for the record as discussion began at today’s Judiciary Committee hearing, stacked, as it was, with supporters of cannabis legalization. Chairman Nick Scutari is the sponsor of the so-called “medical marijuana law” and a previous legalization bill. He said today was the beginning of an important conversation about the status of the War on Drugs, this front of which, he says, is a total failure.

“We have seen billions of taxpayer dollars spent on enforcement” he said. “Our streets become increasingly dangerous and the ability of countless people to get a job, to go to college or buy a home hindered by criminal records associated with marijuana possession.”

Representatives from civil rights, law enforcement and drug policy organizations preached to a choir made up of supporters in the audience and on the committee. Republicans cast a skeptical eye on the whole proceeding despite some direct lobbying from the Senate President who sat in on some of the hearing. Udi Ofer of the ACLU of New Jersey, told lawmakers that arrests for cannabis possession in New Jersey have spiraled out of control under Governor Christie.

“In 2013, New Jersey made 24,765 marijuana possession arrests, the most ever on record,” noted Ofer, ACLU-NJ executive director. “By comparison in 1993, New Jersey made 12,693 marijuana possession arrests, so while New Jersey’s population has increased by about 12 percent in the past 20 years, the number of arrests have nearly doubled.”

“For decades the prohibition of marijuana has been based on a number of fallacies,” said Evan Nilson, executive director of NORML-NJ. “People have believed that marijuana is more dangerous and addictive than currently legal drugs, such as alcohol. People believed that marijuana led to crime and people believed that marijuana is a gateway drug. Despite an increasing body of evidence to dispute these myths, New Jersey is still clinging to these antiquated ideas.”

Republicans were unmoved by all the evidence, and rhetoric, insisting that a full discussion of the issue might better serve the state and its residents than a stacked committee hearing.

“I think, from a practical point – point/counterpoint – probably would’ve been more effective if we had both sides of the issue today,” added Sen. Kip Bateman, who suggested that some law enforcement organization were never even invited to testify today.

It’s unclear when a cannabis legalization bill would make its way to the floor for a vote. The certainty is that this governor would likely veto such a bill. But supporters say Chris Christie won’t be governor for much longer and that the next governor – they hope a Democrat – will be more inclined to sign the bill.