Members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus weighed the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana during a hearing at the Cityline Church in Jersey City this morning.
Speaking on behalf of a minority advocacy group in the marijuana industry, California Minority Alliance Co-Founder and Co-Chairman Virgil Grant III pointed out that over half the country has already legalized marijuana and it’s time for New Jersey to follow suit.
“If you look at the map that I will hand over, over 30-something states have some form of legalization – that’s over half the country that’s already said yes on this. It’s not going back,” he stated.
“The question is: how do you want it to look in your town? If it’s here. If it’s here, how do you want to regulate it. If it’s here, how do you want to control it, how do you want to educate your community? These are the conversations you need to have, not the conversations about we don’t want it.”
Grant went to prison for six years after his medical cannabis operation was raided in 2008, but he remains one of the most active members of the marijuana industry on the West Coast since his release.
State Senator Ronald Rice (D-28), the chair of the NJ Legislative Black Caucus, spoke at length about the social justice implications of legalizing the drug.
“For someone to say ‘we will only let you out of jail if you sign a legalization bill,’ then I’m saying you’re holding me hostage. Now if you understand plantation mentality: that’s plantation mentality,” Rice calmly said.
“If you understand the war on drugs, I could give a whole lecture on the war on drugs – even before Ron Reagan in 1982 – this is a detrimental law the way it’s being presented to us. I can show you in New Jersey, where the sponsor came back up with the legalization bill and said this is about social justice.”
Rice expressed disappointment that the same stance was not taken on the subject of expungement, later noting that marijuana dispensaries could become prime locations for violent crime due to the amount of money involved.
State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) introduced a bill in May and reintroduced it last month.
The bill would allow possession and personal use of marijuana of up to one ounce for adults over the age of 21.
Additionally, the legislation would create an enforcement agency, a tax on weed sales, as well as a licensing system for growers and retailers.
Responding to a question from Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) about the possible benefits of marijuana for pain management, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) President Kevin Sabet said there is sufficient research to show that marijuana is still a gateway drug.
“You really have to understand both sides of the gateway issue, but I have never met a parent, I’ve unfortunately met hundreds, who lost a son or daughter to the opioid epidemic who did not say that it started with just a little bit of pot,” Sabet exclaimed.
On the topic of employers potentially still drug testing workers for marijuana even if it’s legalized, state Senator Nia Gill (D-34) noted the important distinction between personal responsibility vs. governmental responsibility.
State Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-32) also joined the panel at separate times during the three-hour public session
In January, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed an executive order calling for a 60-day review of the Garden State’s medical marijuana program.
On the campaign trail, Murphy called for legalizing marijuana for recreational use to bring much needed added revenue into the state, but that effort appears to be stalled as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers remain unconvinced this is the right move to make (h/t NJ Advance Media).