True Jersey reports:
By Raymond Lesniak
With an intensifying national debate about marijuana laws, four states and the District of Columbia legalizing its use and 16 other states enacting various forms of decriminalization, the issue is taking on greater urgency here in New Jersey.
I believe that more research is needed to determine the full impact legalization could have before we take that step. At the same time, I believe enough is known to allow for decriminalization as a responsible first step.
Despite Gov. Chris Christie’s staunch opposition, a New Jersey senators heads to Colorado to buttress his campaign to legalize marijuana.
The four Western states that have legalized marijuana have experienced significant increases in its use and negative consequences on public safety and health. Marijuana-related DUI cases and marijuana-related poisoning spiked in both Colorado and Washington after legalization.
Colorado now leads the country in marijuana use by youth, with Washington D.C. in fourth place, and Oregon in sixth place. This is reason for caution and concern.
In terms of marijuana sales, the Colorado retail system is the most advanced of all current state models. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area has released its updated report, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado The Impact, Volume 3,” which outlines the most alarming data to date demonstrating how Colorado marijuana legalization policies have harmed public safety and health. Highlights from the report show serious harmful changes since 2014, when retail marijuana businesses began operating in Colorado, including:
- Traffic deaths: A 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year;
- Driving under the influence: Toxicology reports with positive marijuana results of active THC for primarily driving under the influence have increased 45 percent;
- ER visits: A 29 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits; and,
- Poison control: Marijuana-only related exposures increased 72 percent in only one year.
The report also highlights more in-depth data on youth usage (ages 12 to 17) ranking the state 56 percent higher than the nation. On April 27 in a Fox21News report Karen Randall from Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo County, Colorado highlighted a 51 percent increase in the number of children 18 years and younger being treated in the ER for marijuana-related incidents; and nearly half of the newborns born in the prior month who were drug tested resulted in positive for marijuana in Pueblo County alone.
Legalization of marijuana in Colorado also has not had the intended result of reducing its crime rate. The black market business continues for underage sales, with cheaper prices and stronger strains of marijuana. In Colorado jurisdictions in which marijuana has been legalized, the overall crime rate and the narcotics crime rate has increased 10 percent since legalization, according to several sources.
In a report, “Cannabis Regulation: Lessons Learned In Colorado and Washington State November 2015 released by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse,” stakeholders from both states agreed that avoiding commercialization, or the active promoting and marketing of cannabis, is the most important factor in preventing significant public health impacts such as those seen with the commercialization of alcohol and tobacco. These stakeholders suggested areas for particular attention, including taxation, a tightly controlled state distribution model, and strict regulations on advertising and promotion.
Decriminalization but not legalization would help to avoid the negative consequences of marijuana.
This means individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption won’t be prosecuted and won’t receive a criminal record or a jail sentence.
Decriminalization can include options such as mandatory conditional discharge and pre-trial intervention. After the successful completion of mandatory referral, this process would allow for the dismissal and automatic expungement of arrest records, the reduction of penalties associated with personal use, and the removal of criminal or quasi-criminal complaints.
New Jersey, with its attractive demographics and generally progressive mindset, should be a lucrative state for marijuana legalization
However, we should not close the door on legalization.
If we take the time required to develop an effective framework for implementation and to prepare for a successful launch, New Jersey has the opportunity to develop the capacity to administer the regulatory framework, provide strong central leadership, invest proactively in a public health approach that builds capacity in prevention, education and treatment before implementation to minimize negative health and social impacts associated with cannabis use; ensure consistent enforcement of regulations by preparing training and tools for those responsible for enforcement, particularly to prevent and address impaired driving and diversion to youth; and further study the research to establish the evidence to address gaps in knowledge to best meet policy objectives and reduce negative impacts.
The current evidence-based science says “no” to legalization of marijuana while social justice concerns say “yes” to decriminalization.
Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is a state senator and an attorney. He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a long-time advocate for judicial reform, the reform of drug laws and expansion of drug recovery services.