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Cannabis Legalization Looms Large in NJ Governor Race

April 24, 2017
Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor Phil Murphy addresses a gathering in Woodbridge, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie is not on the ticket in New Jersey this year, but his legacy is looming over the race to succeed him. (Mel Evans/AP)
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Trump administration recently warned about the potential for marijuana to lead to other drug use, but candidates for New Jersey governor are considering embracing efforts to authorize recreational use in the state.

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Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s recent comment that cannabis is a possibly dangerous gateway drug comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he is “definitely not a fan” of expanded use.

The issue is currently stalled mostly because Christie has vowed to veto any effort to legalize recreational use of the drug.

Nonetheless, New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Legislature plans to move forward with legislation and lawmakers hope Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s successor will sign it.

Christie, who is term-limited, has opposed any expansion of cannabis legalization. His term ends in January.

Industry watchers say they’re optimistic legalization will move forward, even if they are unsure about the pace.

The Issue

Legalization of recreational cannabis has had a double-life in New Jersey. The issue is currently stalled mostly because Christie has vowed to veto any effort to legalize recreational use of the drug. But lawmakers in the Democrat-led Legislature have continued to explore the issue, taking trips to Colorado to examine successes and failures and promising to introduce legislation they hope Christie’s successor will sign. Supporters see legalization as a potential new revenue stream for the state and a way to keep petty drug offenders out of the justice system. Opponents, like Christie and Kelly, see the drug as a gateway to graver addictions and more serious crimes. Still others are skeptical about full-scale recreational legalization but favors decriminalizing cannabis to keep offenders out of jail.

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New Jersey currently has a medical marijuana program, enacted shortly before Christie took office in 2010. Proponents of the program say Christie could be doing more to expand the program under the law, like opening more dispensaries.

Candidate Positions and Promises

Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy has said he supports legalization. Former Clinton administration official and attorney Jim Johnson backs legalization in a “safe and regulated manner.” Democratic candidate John Wisniewski, an assemblyman, supports decriminalizing cannabis and creating a legal framework for a market. State Sen. Ray Lesniak says he backs decriminalizing marijuana but isn’t entirely convinced of full legalization.

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Republican front-runner Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s spokesman did not respond to a request on her position. Republican candidate Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli favors decriminalizing cannabis possession for those who have small amounts, but doesn’t back full-scale legalization. He voted against bills expanding the medical marijuana program. Steven Rogers, a Republican commissioner in Nutley, opposes legalization for recreational marijuana but says he supports medical marijuana programs.

What the Experts Say

Despite the Trump administration’s position, cannabis legalization groups and lawmakers say they’re optimistic about the chances for legalization under the next governor. “We have a very solid shot,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. Rudder sounded more optimistic about the chances for legalization under a Democratic governor but said he is hopeful that Republicans can be persuaded through sharing success stories. He cited Colorado, which has produced about $200 million in revenue for that state.

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Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who is a leading proponent in the Legislature, says he is working on legislation that he hopes to introduce soon.

Rudder said he doubts the Trump administration has the resources or the desire to interfere with states — or potentially New Jersey — that market the drug. “We are so far down the path of millions into state coffers and thousands of jobs,” he said.

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  • Fester

    NJ should move quickly, The first few years will see huge amounts of revenue for the state as NY suffers under Cuomo who is bought and paid for by the Alcohol industry and opposes legalization. NJ and Connecticut will each benefit from NY’s continued prohibition.

  • Jacci Payne

    Read your bible and you will fined
    All the uses it was used for.
    Medicine, paper, clothes ropes. Instead of fighting learn what it can
    be used for. What I fined hard to
    believe is Church leaders aren’t aware of this, it only shows just how
    much they really study the bible.
    Sit down and put What the bible says about marijuana or cannabis in
    your search engine.
    There are so many other things in
    this world that really needs to be
    address. Homeless, jobs ect that’s
    what should be the focus.

  • familyguy

    I hope legalization occurs. I’ve heard enough reefer madness and the let’s wait and see baloney from know nothings like Jeff Session that still thinks cannabis is only a step below heroin. No one has died or overdosed from cannabis it is impossible. Even children that have accidentally consumed it recover fully. Legalize, tax and regulate to keep it out of the hands of minors.

  • Onelos

    Isn’t it ironic how people who know nothing about a subject like cannabis, are the leading authority on the issue. No one thinks to ask folks like Jeff Sessions how did he come to the conclusion that cannabis is a gateway drug. Growing up in the Bronx during the 70’s, I tried everything, including herion, LSD and cocaine and now have no interest or desire in any of it. I served 14 years in the military service before becoming disabled. Out of all the things I’ve experimented with, alcohol was my greatest foe. During those years of drinking I failed in life in every way imaginable. My relationships suffered, I got into trouble at work, I even pulled a gun out and pointed it in a guys face and didn’t remember doing it. I thought I could drive when I could not, endangering myself and others who were totally innocent on the road!! Once I realized me and alcohol were not a good but very dangerous combination, I stopped drinking. Cannabis has never caused me any danger! Cannabis has never had a negative impact on my life except that my son got five years in prison for possession of two ounces. They also threw in “with intent to distribute”. I am now 60 years old and prefer edibles over any other form of cannabis. I enjoy relaxing after having just one cannabis infused cookie. I have no desire for any more and I feel so much better, more calm and have no desire or craving for anything stronger by way of other drugs. I believe alcohol should be deemed a schedule 1 category substance. It truly ruins lives and results in much greater loss than cannabis will ever come close to! I’d like to hear more detailed reasoning on fact based statements about cannabis being a gateway drug. As for me, I tried different drugs growing up and have absolutely no desire to ever use any of them again. I’ve been prescribed lots of legal drugs through the VA that have much more adverse side affects than cannabis can ever come close to. I don’t think cannabis should be thrown in people’s faces. Like cigarettes smelling up around people who rather not have smoke blown in their faces in public or at home. Also, people should not drive while on cannabis as they can possibly get into an accident and would automatically be at fault under the laws of DWI. It also has positive medical properties towards people who suffer with seizures, PTSD, chronic neurological issues and many other things legal drugs can barely tackle successfully! If something makes a person feel better as opposed to being in agony, who’s anyone to deny them the relief from their suffering. I’m for cannabis being traded in place with alcohol 100%. It would make the world a much better place. I challenge any to name a medical benefit of alcohol. What does alcohol help? Alcohol did help me waste some of the best years of my life in my prime where I should have made the greatest progress. Cannabis isn’t for everyone and no one should push the issue but if anyone ever tried it and got extremely paranoid or did not feel good, they may have had the wrong strain. Each strain promotes different reactions. When buying on the street, you have very limited knowledge of what you are buying and can buy something that imposes a risk to your health. People are always going to use cannabis for many reasons. Lots of them for health reasons. if it were legal, I’d have edibles now and would use it in the safety of my home. No one else need be here. Just myself and a good comedy. Scary thought, ha?