Treat marijuana like booze … or tomatoes? What NJ lawmakers have in mind
Could we one day see a "Jersey Fresh" seal on marijuana?
If a North Jersey assemblyman had it his way, weed would be considered as innocuous as supermarket produce.
But while the Garden State appears to be on the path to joining other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, we're not there just yet.
The U.S. Justice department announced earlier this month that it would be overturning Obama-era guidelines that kept federal prosecutors from interfering in states that legalize recreational marijuana.
The announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to suggest prosecutors will have more leeway in enforcing federal laws that prohibit the sale or possession of pot, but it remains unclear exactly how this will play out.
Meanwhile, efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey are moving forward with proposals by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
One bill proposed by a Democrat in the state Senate would treat marijuana more or less like alcohol. A Republican assemblyman, meanwhile, thinks it would be easier to just treat marijuana the way law already treats tobacco products.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy has supported the idea of legalized weed. Last week, state Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a measure to allow people 21 and older to possess small amounts of pot for their own use.
“We’re looking for legislative legalization in the first year under a new Gov. Murphy administration, and hopefully by summer break we’ll have some serious efforts going forward,” he said.
How would it work?
“You won’t be able to drive under the influence, much like you can’t drive under the influence of alcohol. You can’t consume alcohol in public; you won’t be able to consume marijuana in public,” he said.
However, Scutari stressed the legislation is still a work in progress.
“We’re still thinking about areas where you might be able to ingest it. Just like with alcohol you can drink in bars, perhaps a place that’s designated. If not, it would be confined to your own home.”
He added, “I’m not against a type of public consumption area but that would have to be a designated area just for marijuana consumption — probably, most likely, in certain areas where it is sold.”
He pointed out using marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean smoking marijuana.
“It’s baked, it’s rubbed on in a lotion, it’s added on in dressings — there are other ways to ingest marijuana.”
Scutari pointed out the idea here is to “make marijuana a regulated industry so we can ensure people that are already ingesting marijuana are assured they are ingesting a product that is pure, which doesn’t have these other things in it that could kill them.”
His bill would not permit people to grow their own pot at home — they’d have to buy it from a regulated entity.
“Growing your own would not have the same testing procedures as these places that grow them under strict supervision. And we want to ensure that businesses have an opportunity to flourish.”
He said one challenge of legalizing recreational marijuana is to make sure “this product does not slip into the wrong hands and go into what I consider the black market."
He also does not want to see it being shipped to neighboring states.
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, is sponsoring a marijuana bill that would be even less restrictive than Scutari’s.
“My philosophy has always been: The broader the freedom, the better.”
Carroll said his bill would essentially treat marijuana like tobacco.
“My personal thought is they should more or less treat it like tomatoes — something that is really just something that is not of any particular governmental interest," he said.
“I think it’s time to recognize that there are people that enjoy it and God bless 'em if that’s what they want to do.”
Carroll, one of the most conservative lawmakers in Trenton, calls himself "the straightest arrow in the world."
"I’ve never smoked a joint, never popped a pill, I don’t even drink for the most part. But to me, it’s all philosophical. I just don’t think the price we’ve exacted from so many people, and the price we pay for cops and prosecutors and courts and jails is worth it.”
How long will it take?
Scott Rudder, the president the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a trade association geared specifically for the marijuana industry, expects efforts to allow recreational marijuana in New Jersey to move forward.
“The first step will most likely be additional hearings. Then the measure will have to move forward in the Assembly. It should take several months to get accomplished but we feel very confident we’re going to get this done by June.”
However legalized, recreational marijuana might not be available for several more months after that.
“Once a law is established, there’s a process. The regulations have to be promulgated, then applications would be issued for those interested in growing or dispensing or manufacturing different cannabis products. All that stuff will take time, and we want to get this right.”
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com