Gov. Chris Christie is a staunch opponent of fully legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, but is likely powerless to stop growing momentum within the state.
New Jersey has a medical marijuana industry but the laws are very restrictive, and further easement of medical marijuana policy has largely been blocked by Christie. Opponents are planning to push the issue this year ahead of the gubernatorial election in November. Christie’s position is rooted in the belief that marijuana serves as a gateway drug to much more potent and dangerous substances. The national heroin epidemic is taking a particularly harsh toll on New Jersey, and Christie argues making drugs more accessible will only exacerbate the situation, reports Press of Atlantic City.
Democratic lawmakers and eager marijuana entrepreneurs are betting on a victory in 2018 and will begin to the lay the legislative groundwork for full legalization in the state. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari is leading the charge and will introduce legislation in February to get the process started. Several hearings and the appointment of a commission to research recreational policy in other states is expected to follow.
“He couldn’t have been more off the mark with that portion of his speech,” Scutari told Press of Atlantic City, following Christie’s State of the State address Tuesday.
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use Election Day. Lawmakers in Rhode Island want to be the next state to plow ahead with recreational weed legalization and are planning a vote in the state legislature later this year. Rhode Island would become the first state to legalize recreational pot through the legislature instead of with a popular ballot vote.
Lawmakers said they are pushing the legislation in a bid to compete with Massachusetts. They fear residents will start making the short trip to Massachusetts to buy their weed if Rhode Island does not act, squandering a potentially huge stream of revenue from the state.
Marijuana industry experts argue New Jersey could potentially miss out on their own lucrative revenue stream from a thriving commercial pot industry.
“(Legalization) will do great things for our economy and residents, and I believe it will happen quickly when the Governor leaves office,” Derek Peterson, CEO of a cultivation business eyeing New Jersey, told Press of Atlantic City.
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