By Declan O’Scanlon
In the ill-fated recent rush to pass legislation that would legalize, tax, and regulate recreational adult use of marijuana, my position on the legislation, and the issue, has been misunderstood and mischaracterized by some New Jersey media outlets.
With regard to the bill package that Senate President Sweeney removed from the Senate calendar on March 25, I was a hard ‘NO’ vote. It has been reported that I was willing to trade my vote for funding for projects or causes specific to my Monmouth County district. It has also been reported that I was a “soft ‘yes’” vote. Those reports are fake news that were published by outlets that either did not speak with me or misunderstood/mischaracterized what I told them.
I want to firmly destroy and denounce these false, offensive assertions. Those that know me know I’m not for sale – not for personal gain and not for political-favor-purchasing bacon brought back to my district. Not once have I, and never will I, make such trade-offs. The only way to earn my vote is to give me good policy.
What is true is that there are conditions under which I would vote to support the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Let’s stipulate that legalization is virtually inevitable. Either through referendum or via the backroom-revenue-squandering type of deal making I outline above, it’s going to happen. Aside from the inevitability argument, there are fair arguments on both sides of this debate. A diligent legislator must consider all these aspects and take action that’s going to result in the best outcome for New Jersey. Burying one’s head in the sand, even though it might be politically expedient, is an abdication of responsibility.
On the facts, prohibition doesn’t work. The status quo doesn’t work. If your kid is in middle or high school, he has access to all the pot he can buy – laced with God-knows-what, sold to him by someone connected somehow to a cartel with an incentive to up-sell him into harder, more profitable, and more poisonous drugs. None of this should surprise us, it’s exactly what happened with alcohol prohibition.
On the flip side are genuine concerns of legalization proponents. Safety, local control, tax structure (both rates and dedications), potency are all of significant concern. I will be a firm “no” vote on any legislation that doesn’t address the legitimate concerns raised by my constituents, my Sheriff, and local mayors and officials.
In order for me to vote to legalize recreational cannabis use, the legislation will have to accomplish the following:
1. Break the back of the black market. We’re never going to completely eradicate evil, but if we are going to do this we must to it in a way that cripples the cartels and dealers who want to sell poison to our children and vulnerable adults.
2. Train and empower law enforcement/DUI enforcement.
3. Dedicate all tax and fee revenue generated by the cannabis industry to reduce our $4 billion structural deficit and in a way that invests in the things most critical to residents.
I have let the Governor and the Senate President know that in order to accomplish these goals, I would support and sponsor legislation that:
1. Provides for the funding of Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) statewide. We cannot saddle our municipalities and counties with an unfunded mandate of bearing the cost of keeping our roads safe from drivers impaired by marijuana. This also addresses the traffic safety concerns raised. We must send a clear message that driving under the influence of any substance is both dangerous, and unacceptable. We need to mandate body cameras for our DRE’s to make them more effective. Also, we need to empower DREs’ and permit them to properly conduct a search in the event of an accident or a death; just as we already do when someone is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol in an accident.
2. Increases funding for drug addiction treatment and education. While I don’t agree that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” the current illegal market is a gateway market.
3. Trenton needs to stop “stealing” money from municipalities and counties.
- The 9-1-1 fees we all pay monthly on our cell phone bills needs to be used for its intended purpose of improving public safety and technology. Trenton is currently diverting over $100 million per year of this money. The diversion must stop.
- The energy receipts tax that we pay on our utilities bills every month was originally intended to compensate municipalities in lieu of property taxes on rights of way for power lines. Trenton has glommed that money for too long. We need to return that money to municipalities to reduce property taxes as intended.
- We need to restore homestead rebates and the senior freeze of property taxes.
All of the above items I include in my widely accepted $4 billion structural budget deficit. Funding these items gets us double value – we reduce our deficit and we fund critical things people care about. Funding for these items is also easy to bench mark so as to avoid diversion and hold everyone accountable.
Legislation that accomplishes all of these goals through the legalization of recreational marijuana will have my vote.
Declan O’Scanlon is a state senator representing New Jersey’s 13th legislative district.