NJ Republicans Should Embrace Reforms to Current Marijuana Laws, Consider Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

NJ Republicans have consistently voted against marijuana legalization for recreational purposes, but are not considering that states in which marijuana is legal are having enormous financial success and other positive effects.


New Jersey Republicans are united in their opposition to reforms to the current marijuana laws. According to a NJ.com article,  (“Here’s how your N.J. lawmaker is leaning on legalizing weed,”) of the 15 Senate Republicans, 14 of them plan to vote “No” on marijuana legalization, with one Undecided. In the Assembly, there is only one Republican who is willing to vote Yes. Why are the Republicans so opposed to making marijuana legal for recreational use among adults? 

The results of expanding the existing marijuana laws are consistent with Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility, small government, and rights of the individual. But Republicans here are willing to maintain a vast army of criminal justice employees to manage the mass incarceration and insults to civil rights that are brought about by marijuana prohibition.  

It is ironic that Republican Assemblyman Harold “Hal” Wirths recently blamed Democrats for delaying expansion of the medical marijuana program by tying it to S2703, the bill to legalize marijuana for adults (“The Democrats’ political machine is failing medical marijuana patients, a Republican legislator says” ). When the “Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” was in the legislature from 2005 to 2010, it was difficult to find any Republicans who supported it. Despite polling that showed over 80% of voters supported medical marijuana in the state, it took almost four full years before a single Republican would vote to support it. Bill Baroni’s vote in the Senate Health Committee on December 15, 2008 was a “profile in courage” moment as he considered all the evidence and followed his conscience, defying party leadership, by voting “Yes.” The bill passed into law in 2010, but Republican governor Chris Christie came into office and, for eight years, put delays and roadblocks in the implementation of the medical marijuana law.  

Mr. Wirths’ concern about patients is appreciated, but he should tell his fellow Republicans that marijuana legalization is the best way to get this medicine to the most people. Legalization changes marijuana from a drug that requires multiple doctor visits to one that can be purchased over the counter, like aspirin.

Perhaps some legislators have been honestly misled by reports that marijuana legalization has been a public health and safety failure? Perhaps they believe the manipulated data from organizations that depend on marijuana prohibition for their funding? They may believe this despite the fact that none of the 10 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana are even considering a return to marijuana criminalization. Indeed, New Jersey is one of several states that want to duplicate the results of legalization seen elsewhere. 

There is a more objective analysis, published this past October, by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Department of Public Safety, called the “Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado.” According to this report, marijuana arrests decreased 52% between 2012 and 2017. What a significant impact that could have in New Jersey if half of the 32,000 marijuana arrests stopped. Police could focus on major crimes and crimes of violence. There would be tremendous savings in the costs associated with arrests, trials, imprisonment, and parole/probation services. Community members would experience fewer disruptions in their employment, education and family lives. Police/community relations would improve, especially in inner cities. This report acknowledges the measurement challenges in interpreting some information about the effects of marijuana legalization. However, some things are clear in 2017: 

  • Colorado DUI’s are down 11%;
  • Youth marijuana use showed no significant change from 2013;
  • Marijuana related calls to Poison Control Centers stabilized from 2014; and,
  • Total revenue from taxes, licenses and fees rose from $64 million in 2014 to $247 million in 2017 (and CO has about half the population of NJ).

The Colorado report also notes certain concerns and challenges associated with marijuana legalization. But it is only in a system of legalized and regulated marijuana use and distribution that these concerns can be identified and addressed. The current policy of marijuana prohibition is a costly, ineffective and harmful approach that must be changed, sooner rather than later.  

Republicans need to get with it.  

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA 
Executive Director 

Coalition for Medical Marijuana–New Jersey, Inc. 

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  • dinges65

    Right wing policians want a militarized and aggressive police. Drug
    laws are an excellent pretext, the real goal is to use the police to
    occupy whole areas and be able to put as many non-republican voters in
    jail, in order to maintain the upper hand. These people stop at nothing
    to sabotage democracy and do anything to stay in power.

    They are enemies of democracy and would be better at home in China.

  • Devon Wallace

    Americans don’t have to like cannabis, but they should hate its prohibition. This prohibition law strikes at the very foundation of our society. It is a tool of tyrants, used to violate core American beliefs and nearly every aspect of the Bill of Rights.

    A populace that accepts and becomes accustom to overreaching government policies, such as the prohibition of relatively safe, popular substances, becomes more accepting of overreaching, powerful government in general. This devastates America, not a plant that has been used by mankind since the beginning of recorded history.

    Those who believe in limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and individual liberty should embrace the ending of this irrational, un-American, fraudulently enacted cannabis prohibition experiment. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.

    • Devon Wallace

      Federal studies show about half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis “easy to get” for decades. This prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, has had little of its intended effect. In many cases cannabis prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise, be it light, moderate, or heavy usage. For the most part, cannabis prohibition only successfully prohibits effective regulation.

      A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent regular underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment, underground markets for all drugs are empowered as a far more popular substance is placed within them expanding their reach and increasing their profits, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, police and court resources are unnecessarily tied up by pursuing and prosecuting victimless ‘crimes’, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which is devastating our country.

      • Devon Wallace

        Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. These organizations have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts, grants and subsidies from the government and its taxpayers to support their salaries, tools of the trade, ‘correctional’ services, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

        America was built on the principles of freedom and liberty. In some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

        Regardless of legal status, a large market for cannabis will continue to exist as it has for decades. Either the underground controls the market and profits from it, or the state does…all while ending their assault on our citizens. Let’s end this costly, futile attempt to eradicate a plant that a majority of Americans believe should be legal.

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