SENATOR SCUTARI: COLORADO MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION WORKING, DEMONSTRATES POTENTIAL BENEFITS FOR NJ

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 TRENTON – Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset) said today that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana in New Jersey has the potential to create large-scale benefits for the state. Senator Scutari spent the last four days in Colorado as part of fact-finding tour to examine the state’s marijuana industry and to learn from the state’s experience.

 The senator met with officials in the Colorado Governor’s Office, the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division and the Department of Health, as well as representatives of law enforcement, retailers and others who are involved in the industry.

“There are a lot of reasons to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. It will not only benefit the state financially, but will mean a safer and more responsible way of treating this drug and more humane way of treating our residents. The best way to determine exactly how to implement a program here is to examine what is working, and what is not working, in other states,” said Scutari. “My experience in Colorado demonstrated the success of the marijuana program and the widespread benefits it could have in New Jersey.”

In 2014, declaring New Jersey’s laws prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana a failure, Senator Scutari announced the introduction of legislation (S1896) to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New Jersey for those who are 21 years of age and older. The visit to Colorado was part of a process to determine how best to implement a legalized marijuana program in New Jersey.

Senator Scutari said that he saw firsthand a tightly regulated program in Colorado, which operates the first-in-the-nation legalized marijuana program where the sale of the product is permitted only to those age 21 and older. The dispensaries are contained in storefronts where the product is organized and displayed securely. Colorado has not experienced an increase in crime since legalization and dispensaries are not greater targets of crime than other businesses. The senator heard reports of a significant decrease in adolescent usage of marijuana, a decrease in opiate use, and a decrease in veterans’ suicide rates.

The state of Colorado has also reported direct benefits from revenue generated. Medical and retail cannabis sales were approximately $1 billion last year in Colorado. In combination, the state brought in over $135 million in fees and taxes, a figure which does not include the broader economic impact of the industry. Additionally, officials from the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division said there has been a clear ability to reallocate local police resources to other types of crime since marijuana related arrests had plummeted. That is significant, since statistics show that New Jersey dedicates more than $100 million each year to enforcement of marijuana laws.

The senator said he will more closely examine a few areas based on feedback he received from state officials and others, including: ensuring that edible packaging is clear, including the dosage level; ensuring that the state has a substantial number of drug recognition experts trained; and addressing the regulation of home grown marijuana.

“This was a fact-finding effort that showed the very positive results of marijuana legalization. We learned that there are areas we may want to more closely examine, but overall we took away important information that will help to inform the process as we move forward,” added Senator Scutari. “We know that legalization is not going to happen overnight. However, I am committed to continuing the public dialogue with stakeholders and with my colleagues, to advancing the education process, and drawing on the experiences of other states to ensure we do the work required to implement a model program in our state. I am confident that in time we will see a legalization bill enacted, and finally end the failed laws that have been a detriment to so many of our residents and to our state.”

Photo 1: Senator Scutari views marijuana for sale at the Groundswell Cannabis Boutique, a dispensary in Denver, Colo. The senator toured the facility on Sunday, June 12, 2016.