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Activists Announce Start Of Long-Term Battle In New Jersey To Legalize Marijuana

Marijuana advocates, prosecutors and local health officials in New Jersey held a news conference Wednesday morning to announce the launch of a campaign aimed at legalizing marijuana in the state, and while Gov. Chris Christie has stated that he’ll veto any legalization which comes to his desk, activists aren’t backing down.

The coalition, which runs under the name New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, is backing legislation not just to decriminalize marijuana, but to legalize it within a framework allowing for serious regulation and taxation, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Several marijuana bills have been forwarded in 2014, but not a single one passed through committee—even bills only interested in the decriminalization of marijuana. While New Jersey does have a medical marijuana program, which came into effect four years ago, it’s strictly limited in terms of the number of patients accepted and the number of treatment centers.

In particular, last year Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari sponsored a legalization bill with a tax rate of just 7 percent. In comparison, Colorado has a total tax rate of around 29 percent when adding together various state and local taxes. Washington State pushes it even higher at around 44 percent, based on an analysis from the Tax Foundation.

With Scutari’s legislation, users under 21 years old would be prohibited from purchasing marijuana from licensed dispensaries, and supporters of the legislation have also recommended capping the amount allowed for personal possession at an ounce. Additionally, growers over 21 would be allowed six plants at home.

“It’s time for New Jersey to bring marijuana under the rule of law, where it can be taxed and regulated,” Evan Nison, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in New Jersey, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“We are arresting about 21,000 people a year for possession, which is both unjust and wasteful. Instead of spending money on arresting tens of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens for marijuana possession, we could reinvest that money back into our communities,” he said.

But Christie isn’t having it—regardless of the tax revenue.

“To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey, and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that,” Christie stated last year.

A poll conducted in 2013 by the Drug Policy Alliance found that 61 percent of registered voters in New Jersey think that marijuana possession should end in a fine equivalent to a speeding ticket, not six months in jail and a $1,000 dollar fine. The issue of full legalization appears more controversial. A 2014 poll from Quinnipiac University determined that voters in New Jersey support legalization to the tune of 48 percent and also oppose legalization at exactly the same rate—an even split. Given how tight views are on legalization, Nison thinks there’s an opportunity to nudge public opinion in the direction of legalization with more education.

“We have an opportunity to educate New Jersey residents on the harms of prohibition and what the benefits of a taxed and regulated system would look like,” Nison told TheDCNF.

With this announcement comes a commitment from New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform to remain in the fight for the long-term, since Christie’s stint as governor finishes in 2017, and as it’s his second term, a third term of stringent opposition to legal marijuana won’t be possible.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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