NJ’s Cannabis Train-wreck by Jay Lassiter

Last month, New Jersey voters demanded marijuana legalization by a margin of 2-to-1. Then it was up to lawmakers to launch the legal- and regulatory framework to carry out the will of the voters.

But the current bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey is absolute garbage.

So it was a surprise when producers of News 12’s Power & Politics welcomed me onto their show for a marijuana “victory lap” because this definitely doesn’t feel like victory.

Without rehashing the whole thing, here’s where we are in New Jersey:

  • NJ is still locking up people for weed every day.
  • Sick people in NJ still endure long lines to pay $500 for an ounce of crappy medical marijuana.
  •  Can’t afford NJ’s overpriced pot? Tough luck! Because the penalties for growing your own are “draconian” to put it mildly, up to 20 years in prison for a few plants.
  •  The expungement of low-level, non-violent pot crimes remains unresolved.

The current legislation addresses none of those things. But it’s the neglect of expungement language which stands out most starkly. So we’ve still got people languishing in jail for something that’s about to make a lot of people fabulously wealthy.

Charlana McKeithen is executive director at Garden State NORML in NJ, a cannabis advocacy group. Calling expungement “a massive project for our courts,” she laments the lack of solutions.

Or even roadmaps to some solutions.

“We need answers about expungements,” Ms McKeithen told InsiderNJ. “The expungement question keeps popping up and there’s nothing in this bill that answers any of those big questions. So far, nothing has resulted from expungement legislation previously introduced. But we need to get people (with pot convictions) back to normalcy immediately with reentry support and clean records.”

Meanwhile, it’s almost 2021 and we’re no closer to to solving the expensive, complicated expungement riddle than we were 5 years ago.

I often wonder what this legislation might look like if quarterbacked by someone besides Senator Nick Scutari, the bill’s sponsor. He’s on a victory lap of sorts himself and not shy to remind anyone who’ll listen how hard he’s been working on this.

That part I believe.

It takes a lot of work create a bill this ghastly.


Before I weigh in on the nasty pot-related spat between Scutari and Senator Ron Rice Sr, let’s just say if I was Santa Claus, they’d both get coal.

Senator Rice spent the past dozen years vociferously voting down my biggest priorities: gay marriage, medical marijuana, and various harm reduction strategies like syringe access (so IV drug users don’t spread funky, costly diseases.) I was in the room for all those votes to see how mean-spirited and hurtful his dissents can be.

For his part, Scutari, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is Trenton’s self-appointed pot Sherpa who sired and cultivated the worst medical marijuana program in the history of mankind. So no surprise, his stewardship of the recreational debate quickly descended into a sad, sorry sequel of NJ medical cannabis debacle.

Rice and Scutari are the biggest obstacles to a viable, consumer-friendly cannabis market in NJ. Scutari because of his enduring commitment to the Corporate Cannabis Industrial Complex. And Rice for opposing anything to do with marijuana until embracing a half-baked version of decriminalization at the 11th hour.

When Rice questioned Scutari’s commitment to social justice, the facts back it up.  And when Scutari accuses Rice of decrim half-measures to derail full legalization, it’s not a lie.

It was like a game between two unlikeable teams. Who cares who wins as long as they’re both bruised and diminished afterwards. But because of Scutari’s undisciplined invective the other day, Rice somehow emerged an emboldened, more sympathetic character.

Do thank Nick Scutari!

Because that’s the last thing I wanted for someone who spent his career roadblocking gay rights and drug reform.


Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer. He’s not ready for a pot victory lap.




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