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Registered: 02/07/09
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Group Launches Campaign to Legalize Marijuana in New Jersey...
    #769340 - 02/18/15 09:49 AM (3 years, 4 months ago)

Feb. 17, 2015 7:14 p.m. ET
A group of local prosecutors, civil-rights activists and health officials is launching an effort to make New Jersey the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the U.S.

The campaign, called New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, intends to push for state legislation that would legalize, tax and regulate pot distribution for adults in the state. If it is successful, New Jersey would join Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., in ending possession of pot as a criminal offense.

The New Jersey coalition was set to officially launch Wednesday during an event in Newark. The group has consulted with activists who helped win pot legalization in other states, said Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“We need to take marijuana out of the parks and street corners and into licensed stores for adults,” Mr. Ofer said. “It would stop turning otherwise law-abiding adults into criminals.”

The coalition will support legislation that restricts outlets from selling marijuana to those under the age of 21, regulates serving sizes and includes education about the dangers of drug abuse, Mr. Ofer said. Backers recommend restricting personal possession to an ounce of marijuana, or six pot plants grown at home for adults, he said.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly said he is against legalizing marijuana, and would veto any bill that came to his desk on the matter. Some law-enforcement officials in New Jersey have also expressed skepticism about any potential benefit to be gleaned from legalization.

“To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey, and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that,” Mr. Christie said last year on his radio program.

Still, proponents are looking beyond Mr. Christie to when a new governor is elected in the blue state. Mr. Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, will finish his second term in 2017 and can’t run again for governor. Several Democrats have indicated they want to run.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who sponsored a bill to legalize pot last year, said the next governor would be wise to consider the impact that tax revenue collected from legalized marijuana would have on the state’s budget. Mr. Scutari’s bill included charging 7% sales tax on pot sales, though he is open to adding an excise tax to it.

“I tell people, you are going to need a lot of new revenue streams to hang your hat on,” said Mr. Scutari, a local prosecutor from Linden, N.J.

A Quinnipiac University survey last year found New Jersey voters evenly split on legalizing marijuana, with 48% both for and against. Democrats, men and younger voters were more likely to support legalization.

Roughly 21,000 people a year are arrested for illegal possession of marijuana a year in New Jersey, according to an analysis of FBI crime data by the ACLU. Individuals caught with less than 2 ounces of marijuana face a fine of up to $1,000, six months in jail and possible motor-vehicle license suspension.

Jon-Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association, said pot arrests clog courts and distract law-enforcement officials from more serious crimes.

“I think this is a wasteful activity from a law-enforcement perspective,” Mr. Barr said.

Mr. Scutari’s bill hasn’t had a committee hearing in the state Legislature. He hopes it gets its first consideration in the spring.

Mr. Ofer declined to say how much money the coalition will raise to support its efforts, but said this is a long-term push.

“This is a campaign that’s going to win, no matter what it takes,” he said.


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