EDISON, NJ - Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17 Middlesex/Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee and a lifelong Franklin resident, held the committee's first public hearing meeting as part of the "Cannabis Listening Tour" at Middlesex Community College on Saturday, April 14.
The hearings are focused on determining the impacts that prospective Cannabis legislation could have on public health, the criminal justice system and the economy in New Jersey.
The hearing started at 10 a.m. and went through the afternoon as the committee took testimony from invited speakers and the public. The speakers provided the committee with their thoughts, pro, and con on what they believe the impact of legalizing Cannabis would have on the residents of New Jersey.
Comments ranged from the expansion of the current medical marijuana program to the social justice impact of current laws.
Related article: Danielsen Holds First in Series of Marijuana Hearings
Local resident, Linda Dorsey-Agudosi was invited to the hearing to provide testimony. Dorsey-Agudosi was in a serious car accident in 2008 and uses medical marijuana as part of her rehabilitation regimen.
"I live in chronic pain and every day is a struggle for me," Dorsey-Agudosi said. She attended the meeting to advocate for the expansion of current medical marijuana laws.
She says she spends close to $5,000 per year out of pocket for her prescription. "Life with medical marijuana is a lot better than life without," Dorsey-Agudosi said.
Danielsen and members of the committee expressed appreciation towards Dorsey-Agudosi for her testimony.
"This is truly a calling that I will answer, and so will the other members of this committee and the Legislature," Danielsen said.
Another Franklin Township resident, Arnold W. Schmidt also attended the meeting to provide his testimony. He called into question the social justice aspect of legalization while urging the committee to make sure they an appropriate plan is in place before any actions are taken towards new legislation.
"Prosecution and incarceration ruin the lives of people for doing something no more harmful, in most cases less harmful to themselves or those around them than drinking a beer, a glass of wine or martini," Schmidt said. "And there is no conclusive scientific proof that untreated pot on its own is addictive like the other mind-altering drugs I just mentioned... To be clear I am advocating for the legalization of marijuana but not until or New Jersey Legislators have an appropriate plan that is right for New Jersey."
Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, who is also vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police recommended more studies before any new laws are created.
"It is imperative that we do not underestimate the adverse impact legalizing recreational marijuana would have on traffic safety in our communities," Zebrowski said.
Zebrowski said the NJSACP doesn't have a stance on medical use, however, they do not think recreational use should be allowed.
"There is such a gross disparity in the statistics, where a black man is... more likely to get arrested for carrying Cannabis than a white male," Danielsen said. "In my own district that is statistically a fact."
Zebrowski said the NJSACP wants to partner with the community to determine how and why this is occurring.
AAA Public and Government Affairs Manager, Tracy E. Noble agrees with Zebrowski and feels legalizing marijuana would cause an increase in impaired driving which may result in more traffic accidents.
Dr. Thomas A. Coogan also provided some insight into the impact of Cannabis on driving.
"A blood alcohol level of .05 percent, which would not get one arrested (for driving) under our law, has a 200 percent increased crash risk, the best statistical measures put marijuana risk between 0 and 11 percent," Coogan said.
Speakers from outside of the state also attended the hearing, Michael Fonta, from Colorado offered the committee a host of best practices implemented by his home state. One of them being messaging, he suggested using the term "adult use" versus "recreational use" when discussing Cannabis legalization.
"It's a mindset it's a change in the thought process," Fonta said.
More public hearings will be held Saturday, April 21, at Rowan University and Saturday, May 12, at Bergen Community College, both meetings will start at 10 a.m.
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