CAMDEN, NJ—The recreational use of marijuana in New Jersey could soon be legalized, and while Camden Mayor Frank Moran doesn’t care if residents decide to toke up or not, he does care if its sold in his city.

In an interview with TAPinto Camden on Tuesday, Moran said that he is not in favor of the sale of the drug for recreational use in a city where the illegal drug trade has, as the mayor described, “literally wreaked havoc” for decades.

“I’m not a big proponent of marijuana shops up and down our business districts in exchange for $100,000 a year that goes into our operating fund, to do what? … it might work in Colorado, but every town is unique and Camden is unique,” Moran said.

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“You are going to have folks that are now going to come in and be businessmen that are selling [marijuana]. When on the streets, if you were caught with a few bags [of marijuana] you were in jail for two years. And you are black or brown. How does that look? Not in my town,” Moran said.

The legalization of marijuana was an issue Gov. Phil Murphy heavily campaigned on in his run for governor, and in June of last year a bill sponsored by state senators Nicholas Scutari [D-Union] and Senate President Steve Sweeney [D-Gloucester] that would legalize the use and possession of marijuana was introduced.

After a number of amendments, the bill was approved by the senate budget and appropriations committee in November and is now waiting for further amendments and final votes on the floors of the state Senate and Assembly.  

A meeting that was scheduled for today between Gov. Murphy and the state’s top legislators, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, [D-Middlesex] to discuss legalization was postponed, according to reports.

As it stands now, the bill would legalize the personal use of marijuana for adults; create a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to regulate personal use and medical marijuana; and provide expungement relief for certain past marijuana offenses.

In September, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken and Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City said they wouldn’t support marijuana dispensaries unless people with marijuana convictions were released from jail and their records expunged, TAPinto Newark reported.

They also want municipalities to be able to decide how many cannabis licenses are given in their communities and a share of tax revenue generated by recreational sales to go towards public initiatives, according to the TAPinto Newark report.

However, Moran believes the potential economic benefits of the sale of marijuana in Camden does not outweigh the negative.

“I’m trying to change the perception of my city, and I don’t want things imposed on my city that is going to hurt it and live up to the perception that its always had,” Moran said. “You want drugs, go to Camden. You want heroin, go to Camden. You want needles, go to Camden. You want marijuana now, go to Camden. No."

“I think other towns, if they want those things, let them do it. I don’t think it's going to break our budget or is going to make me a bad guy.”

Despite his objection to the possibility marijuana dispensaries setting up shop in his city, the mayor said he was 100 percent supportive of medicinal marijuana, which is currently legal in New Jersey.

“I think if it is helpful to your loved one, or to you personally, and a doctor responsibly prescribes it to you and it improves your quality of life than that should be the case and that is the case,” Moran said.

Nationwide, the recreational use of marijuana is legal in 10 states and Washington D.C. — Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states.  

With legalization looming in New Jersey, some towns have taken proactive steps to ban marijuana dispensaries from setting up shop in their towns. Moran would not speculate on what kind of official action, if any, the city would take to ban the recreational sale of cannabis in Camden if its use was legalized.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” Moran said. “We’re on the verge of becoming an eds and meds city, with a downtown thats vibrant and surrounding communities that are really seeing the benefits. That’s the end goal. I don’t think if marijuana is legalized or not, I don’t think that’s going to have an impact on what my focuses are.”

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