Supporters of marijuana legalization outnumbered opponents Thursday, as the Legislature held two public hearings required in advance of votes planned for Monday on a proposed ballot question.

The votes in the Senate and Assembly could put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot in which voters would decide whether to legalize cannabis, put a state commission in charge of regulating it and subject it to the state sales tax and possible local taxes.

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, said he’s confident voters will support the amendment.

“I, too, have mixed feelings. I’m not promoting marijuana. I don’t promote cigarettes. I don’t promote alcohol. I’m not promoting anything. But what I can’t live with is our current state,” said Danielsen, referencing the average of nearly 95 arrests a day in New Jersey on marijuana charges.

Advocates for recreational marijuana expressed disappointment that the issue won’t be approved directly by legislators, which would have been faster and given it more flexibility going forward. The Senate was unable to muster the 21 votes needed to pass it.

“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” said Bill Caruso, a steering committee member for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. “I will love this constitutional amendment, but we’ve got work to do to convince the public to do that.”

“This amendment doesn’t create any power for the Legislature that it doesn’t already have,” said Justin Escher Alpert, a Livingston attorney. “What it does is it underscores the fact that the people are not really in control of this state.”

Chris Goldstein of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, suggested that the constitutional amendment should more directly end marijuana prohibition and clearly include a right for people to grow their own.

“What we really need is a definitive end to prohibition. We don’t need a right to buy. We’ve already got places to buy weed all over New Jersey,” Goldstein said.

Some opponents of legalization did testify at the hearings.

“I’m deeply concerned that this legislation will make this drug much more tempting, lend the state’s imprimatur and boost experimentation, particularly in the teenage years, which are critically threatening to young people,” said William Ames of Whippany.

“Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims,” said Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey. “And legalizing recreational marijuana is a bad idea because it has a long track record of victims.”

Advocates for legalization said marijuana is readily available now, though sometimes dangerous if it’s mixed with fentanyl or other compounds. They said a state-regulated industry would be better.

“As long as cannabis is illegal, we cannot protect workers, consumers and the environment. Only regulation allows all of that to happen,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“The idea is that the pot that our parents smoked, what we have today is much more dangerous, can cause much more harm that what our parents used – well if that’s true ... then the answer isn’t prohibition, pushing it deep in the back in the illicit market. It’s to regulate it,” said Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

Sign up for the NJ1015.com Newsletter

Get the best of NJ1015.com delivered to your inbox every day.