New Jersey's 10th Legislative District

Senator Jim Holzapfel

Senator Jim Holzapfel

Editorial: NJ Marijuana Legalization Comes with Serious Downsides

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Senator Jim Holzapfel’s editorial on concerns regarding the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey was published by the Asbury Park Press on March 19, 2019:

Sen. Jim Holzapfel’s Asbury Park Press editorial on concerns regarding the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. (Pixabay)

As a state senator and former county prosecutor, I oppose efforts by Gov. Phil Murphy and Democrats in the state Legislature to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Garden State.

The claims made by supporters of legalization don’t tell the full story, including the negative impacts on our neighborhoods and our children that can be expected should this proposal become law.

Proponents of legalization often cite a variety of anticipated benefits, ranging from large streams of new tax revenues for governments to anticipated “social justice” gains that they say would level the playing field for minorities.

The reality, however, is far less rosy. That’s clear from the example set by Colorado, where legalization occurred in 2014.

By 2017, Colorado’s marijuana taxes accounted for $210 million of the state’s $27.1 billion in revenues — just 0.78 percent. Here in New Jersey, Murphy is projecting $60 million of new tax revenues from the legalization of recreational marijuana in his state budget proposal for 2020.

That $60 million would account for just 0.15 percent of the revenues needed to support his massive $38.6 billion spending plan for next year.

At the local level, the financial picture doesn’t get any better. Municipalities already have been told by legislative leaders not to expect a windfall of new money from legalization.

So any expectation that marijuana might be a panacea for New Jersey’s property tax crisis is misguided.

For example, many mayors and police chiefs have expressed serious concerns that there are significant recurring expenses associated with training police officers to become and remain certified as “drug recognition experts.”

These so-called “DREs” are specially trained to identify when a person’s behavior indicates they are driving under the influence (DUI) of a substance other than alcohol.

This special training is necessary because there is no simple breathalyzer test for marijuana.

As a former prosecutor, I know that DUI cases that are reliant on behavioral observations are much more uncertain and far less likely to result in convictions in our courtrooms.

While marijuana legalization will lead to more marijuana users and more impaired drivers, there will be little deterrent to prevent all of those who are high from getting behind the wheel with disastrous results.

That has proven to be the case in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, where crash rates rose following legalization by those states.

But it’s not just the threat to families on our roadways that has me worried. I’m also concerned that marijuana legalization will increase children’s access to marijuana in their homes, making the current drug epidemic even worse.

It’s no secret that New Jersey is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Ocean County, which I represent, is arguably the epicenter. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to find pain pills stolen from home medicine cabinets being sold and abused in our middle schools and high schools.

Given our experiences with opioids, it’s beyond belief to suggest that kids won’t get hold of marijuana that their parents have legally purchased. That, too, has proven to be true in Colorado, where the youth marijuana use rate is now the highest in the nation.

That also ties back into the misrepresented “social justice” aspect of legalization. According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests of black and Latino youth have increased by 58 percent and 29 percent, respectively, post-legalization. It’s likely those children are taking advantage of increased access to marijuana in their homes.

So why not decriminalize the substance? Because there is no tax money in that solution.

Not surprisingly, those and other concerns are being brushed under the rug by marijuana advocates who are racing to legalize it in New Jersey.

We spend millions to fight tobacco smoking and now we want to add another smoking substance.  We have the highest taxes and now the governor wants the population on a high.

Given the probable consequences, I don’t think what they’re doing is right, and I don’t think I’d be proud of myself for casting a vote for legalization. So I won’t.

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