BLOOMFIELD, NJ – The pros and cons of legalizing adult recreational marijuana use and sales in the Township of Bloomfield and the State of New Jersey were discussed on Monday during a lively discussion forum hosted by Mayor Michael Venezia at Bloomfield Middle School.
Mayor Venezia was joined by a distinguished panel, including Senator Ronald Rice, Assemblymen Ralph Caputo and Jamel C. Holley, and Hugh O’Beirne, President of the New Jersey Cannabis Association.
Local elected officials, community leaders and members of the public attended the two-hour, standing-room-only forum. Among the hot button issues discussed regarding Senate Bill 27.03 included the impacts of legalized marijuana on crime, health, the judicial system and the workforce, as well as economic and educational benefits.
Residents were also provided an opportunity to express their views on the legalization, while learning the facts about THC, and how the outdated enforcement laws have led to a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic residents incarcerated for using the substance.
“The legislation was released last week – it’s 165 pages and they just started discussing and debating it today in the Assembly,” said Mayor Venezia. “The purpose of (this forum) is to inform everybody about what the legislative bill entails and how it might impact our community.”
According to statistics released by The Township of Bloomfield, in 2018 there were 191 arrests for possession of marijuana, which accounted for about 65% of all drug arrests. To date in 2019, only 25 adults have been arrested for possession of marijuana.
Behind alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the third most popular recreational substance in the United States. 10 states, including Washington D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, while many others have only authorized medical use.
“I continue to tell people that this is about money and taxes and property under the auspices of social justice,” said Senator Rice. “They say the way to get social justice is through the legalization of recreational marijuana. Because there have been no longitudinal studies, what we do know, from 2012 to date, there is real data as the number of people who never thought about using any type of drugs or substances – that number goes up tremendously overnight with new users.”
“One thing I’m upset about is we haven’t had any real discussion in our caucus about the marijuana bill and we have never even seen this bill, as Ron (Rice) said, until the other day and as we speak, they are still working on the amendments while at the same time, they want us to vote on this on March 25,” said Assemblyman Caputo. “Well, until I get a full explanation and am able to understand 160-plus pages of the final version, my vote is ‘no.’”
Caputo continued, “My vote is ‘no’ for a lot of reasons, one is that I don’t want the state to be in the drug business, but I don’t think that kids should go to jail for smoking a joint either. I am for medical marijuana, but it’s the recreational piece (of legislation) that I’m not completely satisfied with and all the ramifications that can take place.”
While lawmakers in Trenton have been deliberating the fine details of a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State for several months, Mayor Venezia expressed strong support in a follow-up message on Wednesday for legalization, immediately.
"Marijuana prohibition has resulted in decades of discrimination against black and Hispanic residents who are far more likely to be arrested for petty drug offenses, damaging millions of lives and wasting police resources in the process,” said Venezia. “It's time for our state to embrace legalizing marijuana as an issue of both social justice and economic opportunity. I understand that this is a controversial topic, and some will not agree, but I hope that our state will embrace this progressive issue and finish the job of legalizing marijuana."
Venezia not only supports legalization, but also record expungement for non-violent offenders whose lives have been negatively impacted for possession of marijuana.
The State Senate and Assembly are expected to vote on a bill next week.
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