A New Jersey municipal prosecutor and leading state senator today said he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana, creating a marketplace similar to that in Colorado for those ages 21 and older.
“It’s time that we legalize marijuana here in New Jersey,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union/Middlesex, said in an afternoon conference call with reporters.
The announcement comes amid growing interest nationwide in changing marijuana laws, including in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers are slated to review a medical cannabis bill Tuesday.
Legalization efforts in New Jersey face long odds of becoming law under the current, sitting Republican, governor.
Scutari said he plans to introduce his proposal within the next month. It would generate tax revenue and save money spent on law enforcement and incarceration of marijuana-law offenders, he said.
“The bottom line is our current drug laws aren’t working,” Scutari, who has been the prosecutor for Linden in Union County since 2003, said during the conference call.
The measure would go beyond efforts that failed during the 2012-13 session of the New Jersey Legislature to decriminalize marijuana.
“This is not decriminalization,” Scutari said. “This is legalization similar to the Colorado model that has recently been enacted.”
Decriminalization still supports the illegal drug trade, he said. A regulated model of legalized marijuana has benefits beyond finances, including eliminating drug-turf wars and arrests that can interfere with efforts to get into college and find employment, Scutari said.
“The benefits to this program would be far and wide,” he said.
Scutari said he anticipates a difficult fight, similar to New Jersey’s efforts to legalize medical marijuana.
“The way I see it is it’s the opening of a dialogue on a controversial issue,” Scutari said.
Former Gov. Jon Corzine signed New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act on Jan. 18, 2010, his last day in office. But largely because of concerns from Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, the first sales were delayed until Dec. 6, 2012.
Christie has been skeptical of making marijuana more widely available.
When he signed a law last year to ease access for young patients with serious medical conditions, he made it clear that he did not want to liberalize the law any further. By some measures, the state’s law is the most restrictive of any in the 20 states plus the District of Columbia that allow marijuana for patients.
Scutari was a prime sponsor of the Senate bill creating the state’s medical cannabis program but said it has been flawed in that, “People can’t get it.” New Jersey has dispensaries in Egg Harbor Township, Montclair and North Woodbridge and plans to open three more.
Today, he pointed to polls showing national support for marijuana legalization and his own experience in talking with law enforcement colleagues who say the enforcement of marijuana laws is generally a “complete waste of time.”
“We’re not delusional about how simple the effort will be,” he said, calling the bill a step forward in changing state and national “archaic drug laws.”