By Amanda Weston
New Jersey may be the next state to legalize recreational marijuana, but not if state Sen. Gerald Cardinale can help it.
"Legalization promotes additional use," Republican State Sen. Gerald Cardinale told Cheddar Tuesday.
"There is a certain stigma today with respect to marijuana usage that keeps some people from using it. Once you remove that stigma, everyone has a pretty good idea that you know, 'Hey, the government says it's okay. I don't feel bad about using it. Why not? Joe uses it and Millie uses it over there. Why not?'"
"And so you get an increased number of people who are stoned driving. I for one think we have enough traffic accidents already in New Jersey. So I think we should just for that reason alone take a real hard look before we act," added the state senator, who represents the 39th District, which includes parts of Bergen and Passaic Counties.
A joint panel of New Jersey Senate and Assembly lawmakers approved a bill to legalize recreational pot in the state on Monday. The committee also addressed expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program and expunging drug-related crimes.
About 200 people were inside the hearing room, NJ.com reported; debate lasted nearly four hours.
"A lot of people look at this as a way to make more money for NJ," Cardinale tweeted Monday. "I don't see dollar signs. I see heartache & trouble."
He wrote in a letter Nov. 23 that marijuana is addictive and legalization corresponds to a rise in deadly car crashes.
Cardinale acknowledged that more African-Americans are sent to jail for marijuana-related offenses than members of other races. He said one way to address the problem is to decriminalize possession of small quantities.
"It would not create additional hordes of marketers who are going to be getting at the non-users and trying to convert them to users," he said.
Those messages are going to eventually come to younger people whose brains are forming and where it is really very, very bad for them to use marijuana. When you get 12-year-olds, as we are seeing in Colorado, using marijuana, they're stunting the development of their brain. Marijuana kills brain cells. That's an established medical fact."
The bill now needs to pass a full vote in the state legislature before heading to the governor's desk.