A candidate for state senate in New Jersey's 10th legislative district says legalizing marijuana in the Garden State could curtail criminal drug enterprises, generate tax revenue and stimulate the economy.
John Bendel, a Democrat seeking to oust incumbent Republican state Sen. James Holzapfel in GOP-heavy Ocean County, is proposing a plan to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.
"Laws against drugs do not prevent distribution," said Bendel, an Island Heights resident. "They only
serve to enrich the worst people in our society."
Illegal marijuana sales, he said, often fund drug cartels' efforts to traffic in harder drugs such as heroin, which is responsible for dozens of deaths in Ocean County so far this year.
Legalizing marijuana would take millions of dollars away from criminal enterprises and simultaneously generate revenue for the state, he said.
"Taxes from marijuana sales would not solve New Jersey's fiscal problems, but
they would certainly help," said Bendel. "We can require that it be grown within the state so
that entrepreneurs will create a new industry along with jobs from farm to
Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, two states – Washington and Colorado – have legalized it for recreational use under state law. New Jersey has legalized marijuana only for medical purposes.
Holzapfel, a former Ocean County prosecutor, said on Friday that he opposes the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana, in his experience, always proved to be a gateway drug in cases where people eventually moved on to heroin, crack cocaine and other harder substances.
"In a lot of cases, they didn't even smoke cigarettes before smoking marijuana," said Holzapfel. "Then they became more comfortable, and eventually moved onto injecting."
Holzapfel also said legalizing marijuana comes with other risks, including to public health and a potential for an increased number of people to be driving under the influence.
Even if the Democratic-led state legislature proposes the legalization of marijuana, they are likely to find a major opponent in Gov. Chris Christie, who has publicly stated that he would like to keep the existing medical marijuana program tightly regulated to prevent potential recreational use.
"I am not going to turn this into a place where people fly into Newark
airport, drive someplace, claim to have a migraine from a quack doctor
and get high," said Christie, at an unrelated July event in Seaside Park.
"That's not happening in our state. That's happening, by the way, every
day in Colorado and California, and I'm not going to permit it in this
state, not as a former federal prosecutor."