War of Words Heats Up as New Jersey Prepares to Vote on Marijuana Legalization

March 19, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

As the New Jersey legislature draws nearer to a vote on legalizing cannabis for adult use, supporters still face opposition from several prominent voices ー not least of which is State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-N.J.) who fears legalization is a literal death sentence for New Jerseyans.

"We're going to get more cancer, we're going to get more bullying, we're going to get more suicides, we are going to get more schizophrenia, we are going to get more workplace accidents that follows with the legalization of marijuana," Cardinale told Cheddar. "Our governor is pushing this. And I would call him akin to a Judas goat leading the people of New Jersey to the slaughterhouse."

Cardinale, who represents Bergen and Passaic Counties, serves on New Jersey's Senate Judiciary Committee, which narrowly approved a version of legalization legislation Monday evening. He's long been an opponent of legalization, and issued a statement in advance of the vote, urging his fellow lawmakers to avoid the perils of legalization and "safeguard public health and safety."

Some of what Cardinale has said about cannabis is accurate, and there's still little research about its effects ー in part because of how strictly regulated it is. Studies have linked marijuana use to depression, and marijuana legalization to a spike in car accidents in some states. Cardinale's claims about schizophrenia, on the other hand, have not been proven, and studies have shown that marijuana use among teens and workplace deaths have actually fallen in states that legalized cannabis.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D - N.J.), who co-sponsored the bill, pushed back on Cardinale's assertions that recreational legalization would endanger the public.

"This isn't an encouragement of people to start going out and smoking and using cannabis. What it is, is a recognition of what society is and just regulating and safeguarding our public ー who already does this," he told Cheddar.

Cardinale's may represent one of the more extreme voices out there against marijuana, but he certainly isn't the only New Jersey lawmaker with reservations. The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 6-1 in support of the bill and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 in support of it on Monday. Uncertainty about health risks was one point of debate among the committee members, CannabisWire reported.

Scutari, however, is hopeful the legislation will pass when it goes up for vote before legislators Mar. 25. If it does, Gov. Phil Murphy, a long-time proponent of legalization, is likely to sign it.

If it does pass, Scutari said New Jerseyans can expect immediate accelerated options for expunging cannabis convictions and a halt to marijuana possession charges. Recreational sales, he said, should begin within six months.

"There's a revenue stream that can be garnered from people from New York coming to New Jersey, and we'd love to grab ahold of that market before New York comes online," Scutari said.