More talk on marijuana legalization ahead as lawmakers prepare bill

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

It’s not often that you get a standing room only crowd at the Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee, but such is the interest in New Jersey’s proposed marijuana legalization bill. Scores of speakers signed up to testify, in addition to those who were invited to submit testimony.

“Today’s meeting has a singular purpose and that is to listen, to be educated and ask questions of clarification, based upon the testimony given today,” said Committee Chair Assemblyman Joe Danielsen.

Invited guests included lawmakers and government officials from states with legalized marijuana programs and witnesses who shared their experiences with the plant’s positive medical effects.

“Creating a path to prosperity for people with past marijuana convictions by expunging their records and explicitly allowing them to own and work for cannabis companies is one of the most important steps we can take towards justice and economic empowerment for the communities that have been harmed,” said Shaleen Title, commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.

“What we did with the first $40 million of our excise tax is we dedicated that to schools construction in Colorado, all over the state but mostly rural schools. They have an increase in the capitol construction programs that they didn’t have previously,” said Colorado State Rep. Dan Pabon.

“Listen, I’ve got 99 problems, but thanks to cannabis therapy, addiction to opioids is not one of them,” said Rob Cressen, a board member of the NJ CannaBusiness Association.

But opponents were relegated to the latter portion of the program. There is a perception that their points of view are in the minority in the Legislature, but they are making their voices heard, even if it means waiting over an hour to do it.

“I think there is significant disagreement within the Democratic party that legalization is the right way to go and so I’m not terribly surprised that it’s been front-loaded with supporters. I think opponents will be able to give their say as well,” said Kevin Sabet, President and CEO of Virginia-based Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“The seizure of illegal marijuana in 2017, after we legalized it there for retail sales, increased 47 percent over 2016, so the illegal market is flourishing,” said Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Captain Todd Raybuck.

There are no less than five other hearings scheduled on this matter through June, and that’s before a bill is even introduced, meaning that before too long, marijuana is all anybody will be talking about around here.