Public hearing held on legalization of recreational marijuana in Elizabeth

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The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus is holding a series of public hearings about the possible legalization of recreational marijuana.

The hearing held at the Mount Teman AME Church in Elizabeth Tuesday was the second hearing the group held and included activists, community members, law enforcement officers and advocates from states that have already legalized cannabis.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley says that each meeting is growing bigger than the last.

“There’s a lot of passion, but that’s OK. We need that. We need to debate, the dialogue,” he says.

Some members of the caucus say that they are against the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.  Sen. Ron Rice says that he is opposed to legalization, and instead has sponsored a decriminalization bill to address social justice inequalities.

But some pro-legalization activists say that decriminalization is not enough.

“The community has been harmed by this war on drugs and we think it is right for any bill that legalizes the substance to then being some money back to our communities in the form of tax revenue, as well as jobs and the opportunity for people to be able to make money,” says Pastor Timothy Adkins-Jones.

The hearing was also attended by some people who wanted to warn others about the potential dangers of marijuana. Corrine Gasper says that her daughter Jennifer was killed by a driver who was under the influence of marijuana in Ohio in 2012.

“He was driving. He was very high. He was traveling at 82 mph and he ran a red light,” Gasper says. “He admitted to smoking before he did this.

Members of the group Smarter Approaches to Marijuana were also on hand. They are also opposed to legalization.

“We’ve seen drugged driving fatalities double since legalization,” says the group’s policy advisor Luke Niforatos. “We’ve seen a 210-percent increase in poison control center calls in Colorado since legalization”

Gov. Phil Murphy made legalization of recreational cannabis a major part of his campaign for governor. He says that he is ready to sign a bill to legalize the substance, and even factored its revenue into his proposed budget for the year. A legalization bill would need to pass by the summer to fit into the budget timetable.

More public hearing are scheduled for later dates.

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