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When the latest NJ recreational marijuana discussion began a few years ago, we were all living in a much different world. The primary concern at that time was whether the citizens of New Jersey were being given the right of self-determination to choose recreational marijuana instead of having it forced down their throats by State legislative edict. After all is said and done, if voters now decide through referendum that pot is their prerogative, then so be it, let’s intelligently get on with it.

However, as mail-in balloting proceeds, what in part concerns me is the manner in which voter approval is considered a foregone conclusion by backers who look at polls and surmise that New Jersey citizens in record numbers are getting ready to line up at State dispensaries for their first legal weed purchases. Covid-19 has now made this issue more complex, and the thoughtful “no-vote” is greater than some wishful thinkers might want you to believe.

I understand how the State of New Jersey needs marijuana tax dollars due in large part to pandemic related revenue shortfalls. Governor Murphy is doing his best to make up for this by an increasing number of new taxes being signed into law on a fairly regular basis. The ongoing pandemic also happens to be the reason why passage of the recreational marijuana referendum has become a major questionable decision at this time.

Don’t take my word for it, reference your computers or smartphones the three words “coronavirus and pot” and you’ll quickly see why a “yes-vote” is not currently in the best health and safety interests of New Jersey citizens. If one is truly concerned about the well-being of all NJ citizens, especially during the fall and winter flu and coronavirus surge seasons, the year 2021 is not the time to be implementing this law.

In addition, I understand how pot approval is being framed as a “social justice” cause celebre, which cannot be denied. However, I suggest this issue could be better handled through decriminalization and expungement first, similar to what Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden and NJ’s longest serving State legislator, Ron Rice from Newark, have advocated for years.

NJ may eventually become a legal recreational pot State. For now, let’s put the health of New Jersey citizens first and in the meantime, New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana system will address and assist those who require alternative and compassionate care. Once the nation has a handle on the highly destructive Covid-19 coronavirus, through reliable, tested and approved therapeutics and vaccines, the State will be in a much better position to follow through on NJ citizen’s consideration of legalizing recreational marijuana.

 

Tom Haedrich
New Vernon, NJ

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