Devine applauds Scutari’s goal to legalize marijuana

RAHWAY — Although James J. Devine applauded Senator Nicholas Scutari’s courage for sponsoring controversial legislation, the liberal Democrat questioned his method of trying to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in New Jersey.

“Alcohol prohibition did not work and marijuana prohibition is not working, so it is time to enact sensible marijuana policy in America,” said Devine, a candidate for mayor in Rahway’s June 3 primary election. “The smart way to legalize marijuana is by putting a question on the ballot and allowing voters to decide, because a lengthy legislative process is likely to encounter a veto from Gov. Chris Christie.

Scutari, of Linden, introduced a bill that would allow residents over 21 to buy up to one ounce of marijuana from a licensed dispensary and to grow up to six cannabis plants in a secure, enclosed area.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chair said the measure could generate $100 million annually in tax revenues and save the state another $100 million that is expended by treating the possession of the drug as a crime.

As the author of the state's 2010 medical marijuana bill in the Senate, Scutari noted that it took five years to get that legislation approved, so he dismissed concerns expressed by Devine and others concerning Christie's ability to impede progress.

Scutari believes a ballot initiative would be more difficult because the state constitution requires approval from the legislature and governor before a question can go to the voters.

As a prosecutor in Linden, Scutari said that he has been thinking about legalization "a long time," because he has seen how the war on drugs is a failed experiment that he says puts people in jail for possessing a drug that is no worse than an alcoholic beverage.

“Republicans are out of touch with America, and Christie may never come to terms with anything that causes the ‘munchies’ so there is more reason to worry,” said Devine. “Instead of delivering a veto opportunity to a bully, Senator Nick Scutari and his fellow lawmakers should let the people decide.”

Devine is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor in Rahway, where Mayor Rick Proctor resigned too late last year to allow an election for his replacement.

He said recent polling suggests that as many as 60 percent of Garden State voters would approve a ballot question to legalize marijuana. A poll released by Lake Research Partners in June found that 59 percent of New Jersey voters support legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis and a Gallup poll released in October found that 58% of Americans favor legalization.

New Jersey is one of 20 states that has legalized medical marijuana but Christie has repeatedly said he would not allow legalization or even decriminalization of marijuana because it sends the wrong message to kids.

“More than 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010,” said Devine. “A criminal conviction can have long-term implications for people, but it is an incredible waste of law enforcement resources and taxpayer money.

Scutari’s legislation would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in New Jersey and it is based on new laws in Washington state and Colorado, which took in $2 million in the first month of sales alone.

This article was origninally published at WWW.NJTODAY.NET