Democratic, GOP lawmakers from NJ taking marijuana trip to Colorado
As marijuana tourism goes, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s second trip to Colorado probably isn’t what people envisioned. He isn’t planning to smoke or otherwise consume the drug while there this week.
But Scutari, D-Union, isn’t there to get high. He’s there to get marijuana legalized in New Jersey, so toward that end he’s being accompanied by eight other New Jersey lawmakers for a fact-finding mission he hopes leads to legalization within two years.
“They’re going to see an industry that’s working and from my aspect, from when I was out there the last time, working well,” said Scutari, who already visited Colorado in June.
“And it will take (away) kind of the fear of what we’re talking about,” he said. “And we also want to take (away) the joke about it, because they have a real business industry out there. This is not a joke. This is not a laughing matter. This is big money. And it also is great savings to the state.”
New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform estimates the state could expect hundreds of millions a year in tax revenues if it legalized and regulated the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. It’s already allowed for medical reasons. The group also says the state would reduce the $127 million a year it estimates is spent enforcing marijuana laws.
The three senators and six Assembly members include six Democrats and three Republicans. Scutari said lawmakers are paying for their trips through their campaign funds.
“It’s a bipartisan trip, both houses, and I think we’re going to learn a lot. There are going to be questions in terms of the good, the bad, whatever we can learn out there,” Scutari said.
In addition to Scutari, the Democrats on the trip include Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, and Assembly members Jim Kennedy, D-Union, Jamel Holley, D-Union, and Pam Lampitt, D-Camden.
The Republicans on the trip are Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset, and Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, and Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-Burlington.
“I think the people that are out there are going to come back with an entirely different view of what this industry is all about,” Scutari said. “I hope it’s all positive. But they’re open to ask negative questions. They’re open to look for the negative aspects of it.”
Colorado voters approved a ballot question in 2012 that legalized marijuana, and the industry began there in 2014. It’s also legal in Alaska, Oregon and Washington. Voters in five states will decide ballot question on the topic next month: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.
Lawmakers arrived Saturday and will return to New Jersey on Wednesday. While there, they’ve got a crowded agenda, Scutari said – meetings with Colorado lawmakers, executive-branch officials, health and medical officials, policy experts and business representatives, plus tours of the state’s “seed-to-sale tracking” system and manufacturing sites.
“Creating an industry is not a simple thing that you just go, ‘Hey, we’re going to create an industry.’ We want to do it right,” Scutari said. “We want to learn from their experiences. And we want to even improve on it as much as we can.”
“There are some things that I think we can improve on here in our New Jersey policy, which would be a tighter regulated home-grown market,” Scutari said. “That’s one of the areas that I think they have some difficulties in terms of controlling the product.”
Scutari said he is “absolutely committed” to have a full vote on the plan next year in the Legislature. Gov. Chris Christie is staunchly opposed to legalizing marijuana sales for recreational purposes, though, so any progress would likely be done with an eye on 2018, after a new governor is elected.
Christie is term limited so cannot seek another term.
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