Sen. Scutari Introduces Bill to Allow Recreational Marijuana Use

By Lauren Wanko

Twenty-one is the legal age to drink in New Jersey and one state senator is proposing legislation that would also make it the legal age to use marijuana. Sen. Nicholas Scutari today announced legislation to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the Garden State.

“This bill would create a strict regulatory system that permits adults to purchase and grow limited amounts of marijuana for personal use,” Scutari said.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control would be charged with regulating the recreational marijuana program, which would provide the licensure for marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and retail facilities. The senator’s legislation would permit the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the growing of six marijuana plants. The growing must take place in an enclosed, locked space and not sold. Municipalities would be able to enact local measures governing marijuana establishments or prohibit the operation.

Critics of the legislation insist the bill will never become law, as Gov. Chris Christie continues to make his position clear.

“I will not decriminalize marijuana. I will not permit recreational use, and I will not legalize marijuana, because I think that is the wrong message to send to the children in this state and to young adults,” Christie said.

“We know the governor’s not gonna sign this and we’re ready to have that fight with him,” said Jay Lassiter, board member for the Coalition for Medial Marijuana in New Jersey.

“He’s not gonna be the governor forever,” Scutari said. “Secondly, I think the governor’s a man of facts and when he’s presented with the facts and the overwhelming public’s want for this type of legislation, I think he will be open minded to at least considering.”

Sen. Scutari, who says he’s never smoked marijuana, insists the legalization would save New Jersey millions of dollars spent each year on enforcing the state’s marijuana laws, and this green would generate a different kind of green too.

“In terms of tax revenue and rateables, we’re still trying to come up with those estimates but we’re certainly talking about hundred or hundreds of millions of additional dollars here in New Jersey, depending on the taxation scheme that ultimately comes out in the bill,” said Scutari.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates links have been found between marijuana use and mental health problems like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among adolescents. And a recent long-term study in New Zealand showed people who began smoking heavily in their teens lost an average of eight points in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38 years old. And the lost cognitive abilities weren’t fully restored among those who quit smoking marijuana as adults.

The senator says he plans to travel to Colorado where recreational marijuana use is legal. He says he will meet with lawmakers and regulators to listen to the pluses and minuses of Colorado’s program.