North Jersey senator introduces bill to legalize marijuana

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TRENTON — A New Jersey state senator introduced controversial legislation Monday, March 24 that would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in the state, but Gov. Chris Christie will reportedly veto the legislation if it passes.

Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari of Union County, who introduced the bill to legalize marijuana for those over 21, said the move would bring in considerable revenue for the state. In Colorado and Washington, revenue from the legalization of marijuana in those states is expected to bring in upward of $100 million in revenue this year, as well as thousands of jobs, New Jersey Senate Democrats said in a release Monday.

“This bill will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase and grow limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades,” Scutari said in the release. 

Democrats also say that the legalization of marijuana would save millions spent on enforcement of the state’s marijuana laws, which Scutari called a “failure.”

The senator’s bill would create a recreational marijuana program in New Jersey to provide for the licensing of marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and retail facilities. The legislation would permit the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, and permit the growing of up to six marijuana plants – as long as the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space and is not made available for sale, according to state Senate Democrats.

Scurati said the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control would oversee the recreational marijuana program under his legislation. The bill allows for municipalities to enact measures governing the operation of marijuana establishments, or prohibiting them.

According to the bill, marijuana would be taxed at a 7 percent rate, with revenue going to the state Transportation Trust Fund, Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction Fund for drug counseling, and to programs addressing women’s health, family planning, postpartum depression awareness, smoking cessation, and HIV awareness.

Christie, a Republican, has told other media outlets he would not sign legislation into law that legalizes or decriminalizes marijuana possession.

The New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization described on its website as defending the rights of individuals under the Constitution, particularly groups that have been traditionally denied those rights, supports the legislation.

Udi Ofer, executive director of ACLU-NJ, said that the organization supports taxing and regulating marijuana, and called regulation an “important step toward ending the failed war on drugs in New Jersey,” which the ACLU says has disproportionately targeted black residents.

“The state's war on drugs derails the lives of tens of thousands of New Jerseyans a year, especially African Americans, who are close to three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession despite similar usage rates,” Ofer said in a release Monday. “Countless New Jerseyans have suffered from lost job, housing, and educational opportunities as a result of wasteful enforcement of nonviolent, low-level marijuana possession offenses. The time has come to move toward ending the injustice brought on by the war on drugs.”

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