While some of New Jersey’s congressional delegates support state Democrats’ plans to legalize recreational marijuana, Rep. Tom MacArthur thinks it would be a potentially-lethal mistake.
“I think it’s a terrible mistake. It’s a risk we do not need to be taking,” MacArthur said at a press conference on in Burlington City on Monday. “I understand that marijuana may have some medical use, and I’m certainly ok with using it in that context, but we’re in the middle of the worst drug crisis in history, and you want to legalize more drugs?”
Gov. Phil Murphy and other Democrats in the state, including his counterparts in the legislature and statewide officials like U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, have avowed support for recreational marijuana, often citing the aim of reducing racial disparities that result from criminal penalties for marijuana use.
To MacArthur, who cited hearings of the bipartisan Heroin Task Force, of which MacArthur is chair, in which recovering opioid addicts said marijuana drew them into the more addictive drugs, such legalization efforts are misguided.
If officials are concerned about criminal justice issues, he said, they should seek to change criminal penalties for marijuana use, he said.
“The reason they’re suggesting, both the governor and Sen. Booker, has nothing to do with whether they’re harmless or not harmless – it’s all about the criminal justice system,” MacArthur said. “Well, then change the criminal justice penalties. If the state feels that the penalties for marijuana use are too high and it shouldn’t be a felony, then deal with that, but don’t just make it easier for young people to get marijuana.”
While Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have repeatedly cited racial inequality in marijuana prosecutions as the primary reason for their proposed changes, they’re also relying on revenues from excise taxes levied on the sale of the drug to ease the state’s strained finances.
But, that justification doesn’t even come close to passing muster for MacArthur.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but to justify increasing drug use that might take children’s lives because of tax revenues, that to me is the most cynical – at least I can understand the criminal justice argument, even though I think there’s a better way to get at that,” MacArthur said. “To take this kind of risk with our children’s lives for tax revenues, I think is just insane.”
It’s not clear when Democrats will finally move on their legalization efforts, as the timeline for such legalization has repeatedly changed over the last several months.
Sweeney told the New Jersey Globe last week that he and his Assembly counterpart were aiming to move the bill before the end of the month, but so far, no votes have been scheduled on the matter.