BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Advocates try ‘educating’ lawmakers, local officials to ease way towards marijuana legalization

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Marijuana legalization advocates are intensifying their efforts to raise awareness across the state as lawmakers prepare for a possible vote this spring. Tuesday, the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association held what it called “an educational seminar” for more than 200 people from local, state and county governments, as well as law enforcement. There were medical experts who talked about the plant’s potential to put a dent in the opioid crisis, if big Pharma and insurance companies would get out of the way.

“They are not paying attention,” charged Dr. Sanjay Gupta, president of the American Pain Association. “They will approve a much stronger opioid than a weaker opioid. They will approve other modalities, which are leading to addiction, but they will not approve alternatives to opioids, so I think that’s one of the major problems we are facing.”

Law enforcement veterans, who have seen marijuana possession arrests, put thousands of nonviolent people in jail to no perceivable community benefit.

“I’ve been going around apologizing to a lot of people because I realize that the impact of what I did in my life because of certain laws that were put in place and, you know, the law is not in any way ambiguous. It’s not gray. It tells you what to do and I followed the law to the letter,” admitted former Newark Deputy Police Director and Councilman Hector Corchado.

Civil rights advocates who warned against those who think decriminalization, or reducing possession to parking ticket status, will result in social justice.

“If you can’t afford to pay those fines, guess what happens to you,” said ACLU-NJ policy counsel Dianna Houenou. “You get arrested. In New York, they decriminalized in the 70s. They still make 100,000 arrests per year.”

Legalization, once considered a shoo-in for legislative approval, has suddenly seen opponents spring up, among conservative lawmakers and members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who want to slow the march toward legalization without sufficient consideration for the communities that might be affected. Tuesday’s event tried to counter those arguments.

“Since this program started at 9 a.m., six people died of an opioid overdose, on average, six people died since we started the program this morning,” noted president of the New Jersey Canibusiness Association, Scott Rudder. “Zero people died in the history of mankind on cannabis from an overdose.”

While there was a certain amount of preaching to the choir at the seminar, almost everyone agreed that the eventual road to legalization will be a long one.