NJ Lawmakers Press Pause on Recreational Marijuana Legalization

Recreational marijuana legalization put on hold in NJ

A vote to determine whether or not marijuana should be legalized for recreational use in New Jersey was originally set for October 29, but that vote has been put on hold. Though legalizing marijuana was a big part of Governor Phil Murphy’s bid for governor, he has been in office for almost a year and has yet to make progress.

For many families trying to live in recovery, the idea that yet another mind-altering substance would be legal and freely accessible to those who want it is stressful. There are already so many triggers in society and the message that marijuana is “harmless” that is sent by legalizing the drug for recreational use can cause people to justify its use, especially if they are in recovery for drugs like heroin or cocaine — drugs that are often viewed as “hard drugs,” and therefore more dangerous.

What do you think? Is recreational marijuana legalization a good choice for New Jersey? Does it threaten the ability of NJ families in recovery to stay strong and stay sober?

All in Favor?

Some legislators in support of legalizing marijuana say that the measure would allow the state to repair some of the damage done by racial profiling associated with marijuana charges. For example, state Assemblyman Jamel Holley calls the legalization of marijuana a social justice issue.

Says Holley: “Marijuana’s been a part of our communities for a very long time. It’s been a focus on profiling African-Americans, the data is there. We’re talking about expedited expungements. We are talking about not having that barrier of those individuals who want to get into this market. We’re talking about giving some relief and we’re talking about creating opportunities, specifically for minorities, women and disabled veterans.”

Holley has been lobbying to pair expungements for prior marijuana-related convictions with the recreational legalization of the drug, seeing an opportunity to reunite families that have been broken by marijuana-related arrests.

Other legislators see the legalization of the drug as a good way to boost tax income for the state, improve schools, balance the budget, and manage the bureaucracy of regulating the new industry of marijuana growth, sales, and distribution.

All Opposed?

Though many New Jersey legislators say that they support the legislation, many are in opposition, including State Senator Ron Rice (D). A former police officer and 30-year veteran of the state senate, he feels strongly that legalizing marijuana is not right for New Jersey.

For his part, Rice sees no value in Holley’s idea that recreational legalization will do anything to empower African Americans who have historically been marginalized by the legal system. He says legalization will only create a new social justice issue for the African American community in which they are abused by large companies that will move into the state to take advantage of the new industry.

Says Rice: “It’s not about social justice. It’s about the same old thing: treating minorities, particularly black folk, like chattel, property and ATM machines.

“They are wrong. I know in my heart, they are wrong on this one. The people who have never used these products before, never even thought about using drugs, because it’s illegal, they’re going to go and try and figure out what it does.”

Risks vs. Reward

New cases of addiction, the risk of relapse for people in recovery, the continued marginalization of communities where use of marijuana is prevalent: all of these issues are valid concerns. Additionally, there are dangers that include the increased risk of drugged drivers on the road and the lack of ability to monitor and manage the problem, the cost and time to create a whole new industry from the ground up, and the issue with ongoing illegal sales of marijuana from dealers who are ready to offer a low-cost alternative to the more expensive products sold in dispensaries.

Though it can be argued that there are benefits and risks associated with maintaining marijuana’s illegal status and with legalizing the drug, the task before NJ legislators is to determine what is best for families right now.

What do you think? Are all the risks of marijuana legalization worth it?

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