Saying recreational marijuana should be as accessible to adults as beer, a New Jersey Democrat introduced a bill Monday that will legalize the sale and possession of pot and license the cultivation of it as a crop.
State Senator Nicholas Scutari — who also holds office as a local prosecutor — even wants to rename the agency that currently polices alcoholic beverage sales.
It would become 'the Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Marijuana Control,' the Star-Ledger
The 45-year-old politician, who insists he personally has never tried marijuana, brushed aside concerns that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has vowed he will never sign a pot legalization bill if it ever made it to his desk.
The Republican repeatedly has said he is against any loosening of cannabis laws in his state. "As long as Chris 'Tollbooth' Christie is in office, actually getting the measure passed and signed into law is a very long shot,'' a pro-marijuana Web site, 'Toke of the Town"
"Anybody that looks at the facts, knows that the war on marijuana has been a miserable failure," Scutari conceded in a press release. "We're not delusional about how simple the effort would be, but I think from a standpoint of moving this state and this country forward on its archaic drug laws, I think it's a step in the right direction."
The politician's supporters cite a 2013 poll conducted by a Washington-based liberal group, Lake Research Partners, that claimed some 59 percent of New Jersey voters want cannabis to be legalized, regulated and taxed instead of outlawed. Currently, possession of 50 grams or less carries a "disorderly person" charge in the state, with up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. However, anyone caught with more than 50 grams could be sentenced to 18 months in jail. Growing penalties are also stiff: cultivation of an ounce or more is a felony with a mandatory three years in jail. Being under the influence of the drug is illegal in the state.
"He's not going to be the governor forever," Scutari said. The governor is "a man of facts" and when he sees the revenue possibilities from taxing pot and the savings from an end to enforcing anti-marijuana laws he may change his mind, he predicted.
Scutari said he was following the lead of Colorado, which legalized the possession and sale on January 1, and netted $2 million in sales tax the first month. He contends New Jersey could realize at least $100 million in revenue, which he would divide between the nearly-broke Transportation Trust Fund, drug enforcement and prevention efforts, and women's health programs, which Christie has cut since he took office in 2010.
Scutari said he was using alcohol regulation enforcement as a model for the marijuana industry. Although many specifics have yet to be determined, he would not impose "a strict limit" on the number of cultivation licenses that would be made available.
"We want to make it available," he said. "How many liquor stores are in your town?"
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