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I sponsored the bill to legalize cannabis. Let’s use what we learned from legalizing casinos.

Scutari Void centered

By Nicholas P. Scutari

Legalization of marijuana is just around the corner. The impact of legalization will be felt in all corners of the state and it is up to us to ensure the maximum possible benefit for the public. Legalization is coming, but it must be done right.

Such as the gambling industry in 1977, we are building these doors of commerce nearly entirely from scratch.

Fortunately we have the lessons from Atlantic City to guide us as well as examples from the states around the country that recently legalized adult-use marijuana. Much like the casino industry of the 1970s, the new marijuana industry must be given unique and detailed attention.

To promote public trust, private investment and market stability, we need to create a system of accountability, adaptability and full transparency.

In the ’70s, Gov. Brendan Byrne established the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The five-member commission brought autonomous regulatory oversight to the gambling industry. The authority of licensing and regulation was vested with the five commissioners and allowed the industry to adjust and operate fluently and efficiently.

We would be remiss if we did not recognize the success of the Casino Control Commission as we plan the legalization of marijuana.

The establishment of a five member, full-time New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission is the most responsible course of action. It will ensure the success and integrity of the new industry. An independent commission is the best way to protect the industry from outside influences, illegal enterprises, tax evasion or even shifting leadership — always a concern for initial investors. If a new governor could cripple the industry on a whim, then investor confidence will inevitably suffer.

However, if we do the right thing and create the Cannabis Regulatory Commission from the beginning, we will set ourselves up for the greatest possible benefit. Protecting the industry at its inception will help guarantee its future.

The commission would have the important and crucial responsibility of establishing the number of licensed retailers and growers during the initial launch. It will also have the authority to approve, deny or suspend licenses throughout the process without needing to be run through the long legislative process. This structure will allow for the application process to be efficient, attracting prospective entrepreneurs and investors without a sluggish approval process.

It is imperative the industry has both a strong foundation as well as the ability to grow stronger over time.

The authority of regulation in the hands of the Regulatory Commission will give strength to the industry by giving it the ability to swiftly adjust to any hiccups that may occur along the way. With any new industry there will be complications unforeseen before its launch.

The flexibility in the regulatory oversight of the commission would be swift and comprehensive, unlike the alternative, bureaucratic oversight of the state government.

The tiered checks and balances structure of government, while essential for broad policy work, would impede the growth of the industry. The process of approving regulations through the legislature would be unbearably slow and therefore it would delay the success of the industry and in doing so, the benefits to the public. Regulations that need to be implemented quickly to aid in the adjustment and fluidity of an emerging industry should not be subjected to the same pathways of legislation.

After carefully studying the legalization process elsewhere in the country and knowing from our own history how crucial an autonomous regulatory commission is for an evolving industry we can set our state up for the greatest possible success. Hopefully, in the process, becoming a model for the other states to come. There will undoubtedly be obstacles we did not foresee, there will be questions to answer and adjustments will need to be made.

With a Cannabis Regulatory Commission, however, we will guarantee the stability, security and integrity of New Jersey’s next chapter in legalized marijuana.

State Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Union, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsor of cannabis legalization legislation.

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