PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s the day after 4/20, but talk about legalizing marijuana was just heating up Saturday at Rowan University as New Jersey lawmakers held a field hearing on a marijuana policy.
The public and invited speakers gave testimony on the impact of prospective marijuana legislation on public health, the criminal justice system and the economy.
The Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee is listening to ideas on how to appropriately expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, as well as hearing arguments for and against legalizing the drug for recreational use.
“It’s important that the citizens of New Jersey know and actually participate in this discussion and this process,” says committee chairman Joseph Danielsen.
“The point of view that I have is it’s the right decision to make [pot legal] for economic reasons, social justice reasons, and for the future,” says Ian Nugent, a legalization advocate with a group called NJ FACT- Factual Approaches To Cannabis Trade.
Many supporters of legalizing marijuana point to statistics about minorities facing disproportionately high arrest rates for marijuana offenses.
It’s one of the main arguments New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and U-S Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer make for legalizing the drug.
“It’s unconscionable that so many of our black citizens are treated differently,” says Danielsen, “However I caution people to think that cannabis is going to be the solution to that.”
In fact former Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Rory Wells testified that minority arrests could actually increase if pot is legalized.
“There are still a number of other ways that you can be arrested for that drug. If you have more than (the legal) amount, if you’re selling it, if you’re distributing it, if you’re using it in a place where it’s not supposed to be,” explained Wells.
As with any hot topic, the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana has advocates and opponents.
Some of the most passionate opponents to legalizing marijuana are those worried about increased usage among teens.
“They are going to want to do what adults are doing. The more they see adults doing it once it gets legalized the more kids you’re going to have doing it,” says Alysa Fornarotto-Regeny, a certified substance abuse counselor who testified before the committee.
Those advocating for legalization point to economic growth and jobs as well as social justice issues.
However, opponents combat their points by emphasizing the negative impacts in other states that have already legalized marijuana and expressed concerns of what the potential legalization could do to New Jersey.
Chairman Danielsen says he’s under no time frame for moving marijuana bills through the legislature and this is the 2nd of 3 field hearings on marijuana policy.
The third and final one is on May 12 at Bergen County Community College.