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New Jersey Just Held The First Hearing on Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Use

How close is New Jersey to legalizing recreational marijuana?

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This past Monday, November 16th, supporters of marijuana legalization in New Jersey presented their case to members of the State Senate. The fact-finding hearing, held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was called “to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had.” At the hearing, only supporters were allowed to speak during the public question and answer session.  Speakers from the NAACP-NJ, New Jersey State Police, ACLU-NJ, joined prominent leaders from the local churches and marijuana reform organizations in laying out the benefits of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The committee is hosting a future hearing where only the opponents of marijuana legalization will be able to voice their opinions.

Though New Jersey has already legalized medicinal marijuana, the state’s medicinal patients program is much more stringent than that found in other states, such as California. Medicinal marijuana is indeed an improvement over complete prohibition, as it allows patients suffering from certain types of incurable diseases to use the only medicine that will help them. Many medicinal benefits of the cannabis plants have been accepted now. For instance, the appetite-stimulating and nausea-reducing effects of cannabis use are ideal for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. However, legalizing medicinal marijuana extracts only is a far cry from legalizing marijuana and ending the War on Drugs and petty incarceration of minorities - which has resulted in a marked absence of African Americans in the cannabis industry..

The push for complete legalization of recreational marijuana has started with renewed fire in many American states. New York, California, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are other states with legislatures facing bills that would legalize and regulate marijuana. Other states may face voter initiatives to legalize marijuana in the upcoming November 2016 ballot. Nevada residents will be able to vote on the Initiative to Tax and Regulate Marijuana next year. Unfortunately, every one of those states has a better shot of seeing legal recreational marijuana before New Jersey thanks to a promise by current NJ governor Chris Christie to veto any bill that legalizes cannabis.

Scutari’s bill has been in the State Senate for almost two years now, and is still in the committee stage. Even if the bill has no chance of making it past the governor’s desk as a signed law, publicity generated during its legislative run will undoubtedly push the local marijuana legalization movement into the much-needed limelight. Decades of data from other states that have previously passed medical marijuana laws have started to dispel the damaging myths surrounding marijuana legalization. Even more telling, the states that have passed recreational marijuana laws have since started reporting large windfalls of tax income - which has been funneled into productive channels such as scholarships - and even booming housing markets and tourism industries. Scutari wants to bring New Jersey into the future and start reaping these benefits. He told

“There is no question that we need to update our archaic drug laws in this country and the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana.” While Scutari’s words ring especially true in New Jersey, the reminder that marijuana legalization is inevitable also resonates across the country on a federal level. Recently, Vermont Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, which would end cannabis’s classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic and allow individual states to make the decision on whether or not to legalize marijuana without having to worry about potential federal ramifications. If and when this federal haze is cleared, the tidal wave of marijuana legalization will sweep across the nation. For now, voter initiatives and legislative hearings - like this one held by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee - are the growing swells which hint at the inevitable wave of change.

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