Legislative Committees Pass Two Versions of Marijuana Legalization Bill

Scutari

The public passed marijuana legalization on Nov. 6th supposedly to be free of the regulatory intrusiveness of government, and today the state Senate Appropriations Committee demonstrated new vistas of intrusive potential as it passed – along party lines – Senate Bill No. 21, with some amendments targeting social justice concerns that diverged from the Assembly version of the bill and created more questions than answers.

S. 21, titled the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act,” primarily concerns the development, regulation, and enforcement of activities associated with the personal use, by persons 21 years of age or older, of legal cannabis or cannabis resin (the terms provided to distinguish the legalized products from unlawful marijuana or hashish).  According to the language of the bill, this would be accomplished through the expansion of the scope and duties of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, created by P.L.2019, c.153 (C.24:6I-5.1 et al.) to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program, which is primarily set forth in the “Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act,” P.L.2009, c.307 (C.24:6I-1 et al.).

Too many last minute amendments, griped state Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), who worried about the taxes Trenton politicians seemed to be intent on imposing, and new bureaucracies to forge. He voted no.

An always similarly tax fretful state Senator Michael Testa (R-1) noted that federal government contracts could be in jeopardy if impacted employers fail to maintain a drug-free environment.

“The people of New Jersey voted for and support legalization, but they didn’t vote for this bill,” said Testa. “This bill has been pushed and pulled in so many directions by special interests and legislators who want nothing more than to get their hands on a tax windfall. I had to vote ‘No’ and I am disappointed that Trenton couldn’t do the right thing and pass a bill that has not be corrupted by greed.”

He voted no.

Not enough of a social justice dimension, said state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), reinforcing an NAACP, state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) and Rev. Charles Boyer grievance, who all want the criminal justice component put back in the bill. Ruiz ultimately voted yes to push the bill out of committee.

Social justice advocates backed the bill did so with the belief that there would be a social justice component. Tasked by the Legislative Black Caucus to secure those provisions, state Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) said the amendments – unlike the assembly version of the bill – included a 70% dedication of the sales tax money, the largest chunk – to impacted communities.

“I’m incredibly excited,” said Singleton. “I’ve got to thank the senate president and Senator Scutari. “Unequivocally, when they [critics of the earlier iteration of the bill] have an opportunity to read through these amendments they will look where it started and see a monumental leap forward in terms of demonstrable commitment.”

The senator said the new, revamped senate version bill would dedicate monies for educational support, literacy programs, extended learning time programs, GED preparedness, tutoring, vocational, financial literacy, economic development, legal aid, social support services, food assistance, mental health treatment, youth recreation, and low interest loans for minority and women’s business development. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is charged with dispersing that money, 70% of all sales tax.

“It’s a better idea than even I had imagined when this started,” Singleton.

But the assembly version doesn’t contain that amendment and has a different set of caps, complicating the legislative process – “a diabolically cluttered legislative process,” a source added, “that once again has left the public behind.”

State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36), chair of appropriations, had his own set of worries.

He’s bothered by the impact of marijuana legalization on the workplace and the lack of measurable tests comparable to breathalyzers. Might workers unfairly become targets of their employers and suspected of doing drugs on the job? And who would be saddled with the cost of testing equipment?

“We need to think through the employee and employer protections,” said the Bergen-based senator.

“We now have two bills that are completely different, he added, referring to the senate and assembly versions. “My concerns are not fatal to the passage of the bill, but I need to have some labor lawyers take a closer look.”

None of it really seemed to worry state Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22), who authored the bill, and who kept reminding his colleagues that marijuana will be legal in January on the strength of the referendum’s passage, regardless of whatever refinements they introduced.

But state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) continued to have questions.

“I think it’s being rushed,” the senator told InsiderNJ.

He said he liked the committee’s amendment to include a dedication of the sales tax to communities of need, but had questions about the delivery system of those monies, and wants to see the installation of a chief diversity officer.

He also wants to make sure that monies go to businesses owned by women and minorities “across the board” and not merely to gummy bear shops.

“I have a huge question mark about mushrooms put into the bill, that’s Scutari again,” said Rice. “He’s helping out. That’s going to create a new product that we don’t even use.”

Critics also worried about what they say is a lack of meaningful expungement reform on the criminal justice side of legislation, and fear a separate bill does not go deep enough.

“It’s extremely disappointing, to say the least,” said People’s Organization for Progress Founder and Executive Director Larry Hamm. “Expungement has to be a part of the process of legalization. Once you legalize, people are already poised to go into business, big business, while those busted for a couple of ounces are still in prison.”

One source described the front office as an absent influencer today while the lower and upper house wrestled with a thorny and complex issue.

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  • Brian Kelly

    Marijuana Legalization has never been primarily about the tax revenue as desperate anti-marijuana prohibitionist types are desperately trying to get the public to believe now. The revenue is just one of many additional incentives to legalize. The primary reasoning behind marijuana legalization and the reason it has gained the support of the vast majority of American voters is because of the following:

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Nationwide!

    The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our yearly tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives. Especially, if they happen to be of the “wrong” skin color or they happen to be from the “wrong” neighborhood, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

    • Brian Kelly

      Infinitely more workers end up impaired at work, calling out of work or in a stupor because of alcohol than marijuana.

      Why doesn’t alcohol concern you much more than relatively benign marijuana? It should.

      Legalizing Marijuana will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired employees in our workplaces.

      It will not create a huge influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

      This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

      Truth: Responsible workers don’t go to work while impaired on any substance period!

      Irresponsible employees already share our workplaces, and they will work while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Therefore, legalizing marijuana will have little to zero impact on the amount of marijuana impaired employees in our workplaces.

      Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

      Equal rights and protections as alcohol drinkers in our workplaces and everywhere else.

      Plain and simple!

      Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

      • Brian Kelly

        Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

        Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

        The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

        If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

        Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

        Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

        • Brian Kelly

          Marijuana Consumers Are Not Criminals!

          End the systematically failed both state and federal policies of criminalizing consumers of a natural, relatively benign plant proven to be far safer than perfectly legal, widely accepted alcohol and tobacco.

          End The Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Now!

          Legalize Nationwide! State by state if need be!

          It’s time our country wakes up and learns from our history.

          Prohibition does not prevent people from consuming marijuana. The demand will be there always and therefore marijuana will always be served up to the public regardless of marijuana prohibition laws. The alcohol prohibition era criminal organizations and gangsters such as Al Capone of yesteryear are the Pablo Escobar, El Chapo and drug cartels of today.

          The Temperance Movement didn’t catch on and last in part because it was a dead horse from the start.

          Prohibition only serves to further fuel the vast wealth and corruption, violence and death attributed to the criminal organizations which flourish under it by providing marijuana to meet the continual demand at inflated prices. Just like with alcohol, marijuana prohibition doesn’t work, makes no sense, and costs the tax payers a fortune yearly.

          Legalization creates jobs, improves the economy and let’s us as a nation focus the wasted resources currently used to criminalize citizens over marijuana towards things much more needed and useful.

          This is how freedoms get taken away from The People. First, a small minority doesn’t morally approve of marijuana. Tomorrow, it’s R-Rated movies, certain books and literature and eventually that minority aspires to make every citizen conform to their personal sense of morality through laws which criminalize everything that they personally don’t approve of.

          Tell us something prohibitionists:

          Why do you feel justified in endlessly wasting billions upon billions of our yearly tax dollars continuing to arrest, criminalize, incarcerate, and hand out life long permanent criminal records to otherwise hard-working, tax-paying, adult citizens for choosing to consume marijuana although it is far safer than perfectly legal, widely accepted alcohol?

          Shouldn’t their first and foremost priority be protesting the legality of alcohol if they really aren’t just biased and truly so cornered about other people on what those whom oppose marijuana legalization deem to be a “dangerous drug”?

          Why do the anti-marijuana folk apply such a blatantly obvious unfair double standard to far less dangerous marijuana that they obviously don’t apply equally to far more deadly, dangerous and harmful yet perfectly legal, widely accepted alcohol?

          Legalize Nationwide!

          • Brian Kelly

            There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

            The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

            Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

            Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

            With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

            Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

            Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

          • Brian Kelly

            It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

            Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

            The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

          • Brian Kelly

            “Marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

            “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

            “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

            Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

            Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”
            -washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/23/marijuana-may-be-even-safer-than-previously-thought-researchers-say/

            “The report discovered that marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, marijuana had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—marijuana is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

            -complex.com/pop-culture/2015/02/scientific-reports-weed-114-safer-alcohol

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