Trenton’s Cannabis Clown Car Stalled Out. Again.

Scutari and O'Scanlan.

Dumpster fire. Train-wreck. Broken. Catastrophe.

I’m running out of superlatives to describe the NJ legislature’s handling of cannabis reform, an effort that stalled yet again this week.  NJ voters legalized recreational cannabis by a 2-to-1 margin last November and Trenton lawmakers are struggling to carry out the will of the people.

The latest aborted attempt just to move the needle towards legal cannabis sales again proves Trenton’s lack of conviction on matters that NJ voters care about. This week’s bill was pulled from consideration, presumably because it lacked the votes. Democrats are still tripping over themselves to divvy up the presumed windfall that should accompany the legalization of recreational cannabis.

And that’s the rub.

Democratic Senator Nick Scutari is NJ’s self-appointed pot sherpa. He favors a legalization model that’s extremely friendly to big companies at the expense of NJ consumers. There are no provisions for homegrown cannabis making NJ an outlier nationally. So cannabis will only be legal when purchased at a dispensary with the connections and the juice to score a license. It’s a pot lobbyist’s wildest fantasy come true.

In Scutari’s model, out-of-state based licensees are the big winners and we know this because we have eyes and we saw what happened with medical cannabis.

That corporate approach runs contrary to the strong impulse to earmark cannabis revenues for communities most harmed by the war on drugs. And that conflict has the Dems tied up in knots.

Statehouse Democrats often leverage their overwhelming majorities to advance legislation when it suits them. But since cannabis apparently isn’t one of those things, it might take some GOP votes to get this over the finish line.

Republicans who still hold retrograde views on cannabis (ie: most of them) will always vote no. Other GOP lawmakers take a dim view because, frankly, Scutari’s bill has some serious flaws.

NJ Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) has tried to nudge NJ’s cannabis debate out of Crazytown since joining a NJ delegation that trekked out to Colorado back in 2016 to study their legalization journey. (see pic)

I covered that junket for Leafly.

“You were on that trip to Colorado and they told us ‘don’t make the mistake of overtaxing,'” Senator O’Scanlon told InsiderNJ. “You can’t (tax) above 25% if you want to beat the black market, better yet 15% which would really hammer the illicit market. And so job #1 should be to destroy the illicit market.”

Senator O’Scanlon was especially focused on the language of a referendum that changed our constitution.

“The language on the ballot was clear: only taxes on retail sales and some transfer taxes at the cultivator level are permitted. Excise tax is contrary to the ballot question which was specific about low taxes.”

And so all these extra fees and taxes for sympathetic causes mean zero support from the GOP, even from the Republicans like O’Scanlon. Right now, NJ democrats, fighting amongst themselves, don’t have the luxury of ignoring GOP demands at this point.

Especially the extremely reasonable ones.

“I’ve long been an advocate for a medical home-grow pilot program,” O’Scanlon told InsiderNJ, proving the point. “The fact we haven’t done that yet? C’mon!!! We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work in other states. This should be straightforward, particularly for patients who can’t afford the expensive products (in NJ dispensaries.)”

(Patients like myself, for example.)

NJ Senator Michael Testa (R-Cumberland) occupies the Trumpier segment of the NJ political continuum. He was a hard “no” on legalization as NJ’s newest state senator. But when voters rendered their decisive cannabis verdict he changed course because that’s what voters in his district demanded.

It’s an evolution he described earlier this month.

“This bill should be far more streamlined to reflect what New Jersey voters actually voted on.” Senator Testa told InsiderNJ, echoing O’Scanlon’s critique of extra taxes and fees.

A cursory glance at Testa’s track record reveals a conservative who’s generally opposed to more taxes on principle. He pointed out that his South Jersey District includes Vineland and Millville, so-called Impact Zones disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. Testa fears not only taxes beyond the scope of the referendum, but that those so-called “dedicated funds” won’t make it back to places like Vineland and Millville.

“You do not need to look far to see the chronic mismanagement of dedicated funds,” Testa said. “New Jersey collects close to $124 million annually in fees from landline and cellular telephone customers. Those fees are placed in the “9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund Account.” Yet, since 2006, the State has diverted nearly 90 percent of the collected fees – more than $1.4 billion – from the fund.”

We don’t have a crystal ball. And so we look to Trenton’s track record. Which is really bad.

So in conclusion, here’s where we’ve stalled in New Jersey:

  • Still locking up people for weed every day.
  • Sick people still endure long lines in freezing weather to pay $500 for an ounce of medicine.
  •  Can’t afford NJ pot? Too Bad! Because penalties for growing your own are “draconian,” up to 20 years in prison for a few plants.
  • NJ Governor Murphy-aligned attorneys and mega-donors are in court right now fighting over dispensary licenses.
  •  The expungement of low-level, non-violent pot crimes remains unresolved.

Neglecting expungement language at this point is beyond scandalous, especially for  white Democrats who squawk about social justice when cameras are rolling.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster who gets his cannabis from the black market. 

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  • Brian Kelly

    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!

    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

      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. Especially, if they happen to be of the “wrong” skin color or they happen to be from the “wrong” neighborhood. Which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, 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

        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 “concerned” 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

          In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

          In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

          Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

          People who consume marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

          Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

          Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

          Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

          To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

          There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

          So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

          We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

          Has a marijuana consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

          Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

          Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

          • 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.

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