MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ - Lifelong Franklin resident, Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17 Middlesex/Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee is leading discussions regarding legalized marijuana in New Jersey.
Danielsen's committee heard testimony for several hours regarding the impact of expanding legalized marijuana Monday, March 5. Currently, in New Jersey only medical marijuana is legal.
“We started as a blank slate, and the committee received a great education, but it’s just the beginning," Danielsen said. "This is an important civil justice, health care, and law enforcement issue. We will hear all viewpoints and continue to get an education."
Monday's committee hearing included testimony from lawyers, doctors, former law enforcement, medical marijuana patients, elected officials and other stakeholders. The impact of prospective marijuana legislation on public health, criminal justice system and the economy was discussed.
The majority of the testimonies can be found by clicking here.
Shaleen Title, an attorney and one of five members of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission warned against decriminalization and the disproportionate legal consequences minorities face concerning marijuana arrests.
"After Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in 2008 the number of arrests, of course, went down significantly, but racial disparity among those arrests have only increased," Title said. Removing the penalties from marijuana without taking attentional steps towards social justice is a half measure, it is simply not enough."
Racial disparities in New Jersey marijuana arrests are at an all-time high, according to ACLU-NJ. In 2013, Black New Jerseyans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite similar usage rates, according to ACLU-NJ.
"In my district (17) the ACLU has reported that a black man is 15 times more likely to be arrested than the same user that is a white male," Danielsen said.
Retired DEA Supervisory Special Agent, Jack Teitelman, is the founder and CEO of the Titan Group a full-service DEA compliance risk management firm, provided testimony to the panel.
"In a properly regulated market, we develop a system where we are drying up the black market," Teitelman said. "The benefits of a properly regulated NJ cannabis market means we are going from the shadows of cartels and drug dealers to business owners, creating a stronger workforce and increased tax revenue... There is more good associated with a regulated industry than one of prohibition or complete decriminalization."
In addition to Monday's committee hearing, Danielsen has embarked on various field trips to assist him during his fact-finding mission. One such trip was to one of the six medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey, the Garden State Dispensary (GSD).
Danielsen along with other elected officials toured GSD Feb. 27.
Woodbridge Mayor, John E. McCormac discussed the impact the dispensary has had on his community. "As the host mayor, I have to say this place has not been an issue for us one little bit," McCormac said.
During the March 13 Township Council meeting a local resident asked if the township has any plans regarding the legalization of marijuana.
Mayor Phil Kramer said the council is waiting to see what will be done on the state level before any actions will be taken.
There will be more public hearings throughout New Jersey in the coming months, so the public can express their thoughts to elected officials.
"The Assembly is of the opinion, that we only have one shot at doing this right the first time," Danielsen said. "This is too important to rush. The process must include heavy input from our communities."
According to Danielsen's Facebook page, the "Cannabis Listening Tour" will be on the following dates and locations starting at 10 AM:
Saturday, April 14th — Middlesex County College
Saturday, April 21st — Rowan University
Saturday, May 12th — Bergen County Community College
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