by Claire Bernish
Bold legislation introduced in New Jersey last week would not only treat cannabis like tobacco — legalizing it — but would expunge records for individuals previously convicted of certain marijuana-related ‘crimes.’
Should the bill, A4193, pass, convenience stores would be permitted to sell cannabis alongside cigarettes — available to anyone aged 19 and older.
“This bill would legalize marijuana by removing all criminal liability associated with marijuana from the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice … as well as its regulation as a controlled dangerous substance under the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act,” the proposed law states.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll — once deemed the state Legislature’s “Most Conservative” member, as the Newark Patch pointed out — the legislation “[l]egalizes marijuana and provides for records expungement for certain past marijuana offenses; treats marijuana products similar to tobacco products, including the use of civil penalties for providing marijuana to persons under 19 years of age.”
Carroll’s bill audacious thumbs its nose at the DEA’s vehemently criticized decision this year not to reschedule cannabis from its current inexplicable designation as a dangerous substance of no medical value, akin to heroin or cocaine.
“To me it’s just not a big deal,” Carroll told Politico. “It’s already ubiquitous. Anybody who thinks this is somehow going to increase the availability of marijuana has never been 19. If that’s the case, then what’s the big deal about having it available at the local 7-Eleven?”
Alcohol, after all, is a standard fixture at convenience stores and gas stations, with store owners facing fines and other civil penalties for underage distribution.
“The whole point here is to get the government out of the business of treating at least marijuana use as a crime and treat it instead as a social problem,” Carroll continued, adding he’s never tried cannabis, personally.
“You’re talking to the world’s most boring, straightest guy,” he said. “I’ve never popped a pill, never smoked a joint, nothing. I’ve never quite understood the all the allure of this stuff.”
Apparently, though, he doesn’t feel his personal views concerning substances should override contrary opinions and choices.
On the surface, the right-wing lawmaker would seem the last person sponsoring legislation taking such a radical departure from federal law — but on issues of personal freedom, his stances align most closely with libertarian philosophy. Carroll not only co-sponsored New Jersey’s medical cannabis legislation, in April he proposed lowering the state’s drinking age to 18, saying, according to the Patch.
“If you’re old enough to make the determination you want to enlist in the Marines, you’re old enough to determine if you want to have a beer.”
Despite an overwhelming public perception cannabis should at least be decriminalized and growing national disillusionment with the failed drug war — with the resultant largest prison population in the world, gang violence, strengthening of Mexican cartels, epidemic-level police violence, and inability of those in need to get life-saving medical cannabis treatment — the Drug Enforcement Agency opted to maintain marijuana prohibition this year.
Should the proposed law indeed pass, New Jersey would join Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon in legal, recreational weed. In fact, degrees of decriminalization and legalization — mostly for medical use — exist in half the states in the nation.
November’s election will likely expand those numbers.
Ballot measures could potentially legalize recreational use in varying degrees in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Nevada — and although they aren’t all expected to pass, the segment of the population arguing against legalization shrinks seemingly by the month.
New Jersey lawmakers are attempting a multi-pronged approach to legalizing weed. Another bill, A2068, filed in January by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora — ironically, one of the most liberal members of the state Legislature — and State Sen. Nicholas Scutari would legalize cannabis and treat it akin to alcohol. A third is expected after several legislators, including Gusciora and Scutari, return from an information-gathering field trip examining legalization in Colorado in October.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — whom Carroll refers to as “the Fat Man” — will almost certainly veto any legislation concerning cannabis. But his tenure in office draws to a close just over a year from now.
“We would like to get the ball rolling, even with this governor and even if he vetoes it, the choice then could be made to put it on the ballot through the Legislature or set the groundwork for the next administration,” Gusciora told Politico. “I think it’s only a matter of time.”