Van Drew cautions New Jersey to slow down on legalizing weed

  • 0
Pot leaf

With a Democratic majority in both houses in Trenton and a new governor who prominently supported legalizing marijuana in his campaign, New Jersey seems destined to join a growing number of states that choose to defy federal law and allow the drug to be sold and used.

Not so fast, says state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, one of a handful of Democrats in the Legislature who suggest putting the brakes on the move to full legalization.

“With all of the issues we have in New Jersey, all of the things we need to get done, I don’t think the top of that list should be the need for more recreational drugs,” Van Drew said in a recent interview. “I think this is something we should slow down on.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney has said he plans to fast-track legalization this year. The issue even earned a mention in Gov. Phil Murphy’s inauguration address Jan. 12, along with a list of progressive priorities he outlined in the speech. Murphy replaced Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a steadfast opponent of marijuana legalization.

According to Van Drew, the proposal has strong support among Democrats in the Senate, but he is among five or six in his party who oppose it. But a few Republicans are also in favor, so there is a chance for passage this year, he said.

“I think it’s going to be tight,” he said. “I don’t think they’re there yet.”

According to Trish Graber, the communications director for the Senate majority, Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana and create a state division of marijuana enforcement. It is identical to a bill introduced last session, and will need approval of the senate judiciary committee – where Scutari is chairman – to move on to a vote on the senate floor.

Scutari was unavailable for an interview before this newspapers's deadline. In a published opinion piece, he cited Colorado’s success as part of his reason to support legalization.

Van Drew described his position as nuanced. He is in favor of expanding New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws to allow the drug to be used in treating illnesses that are currently excluded, and he also wants to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot for personal use.

“I think too many people are just sitting around in jail cells,” he said. “It doesn’t help anyone.”

Instead of being arrested, under Van Drew’s vision someone found in possession of marijuana could receive a misdemeanor summons, something not much more serious than a traffic ticket. That is the current model in New York City and Philadelphia, where marijuana arrests are down dramatically in recent years.

“However, I do not support the legalization of marijuana,” he said.

Van Drew, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress this year to run for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, said his is not a particularly popular position at the moment.

“This will give more people a chance to yell at me,” he said in an interview.

Proponents of legalization point to the potential tax windfall. In Colorado, for instance, high taxes on recreational marijuana have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, with millions going to rebuild schools around the state.

But Van Drew suggests that is not the entire story. He said that on recent visits to Denver, he has seen an increase in the number of homeless people in the Mile-High City, increased traffic accidents and more young people using the drug since legalization.

“With all of the issues we have in New Jersey, all of the things we need to get done, I don’t think the top of that list should be the need for more recreational drugs,” he said. “I think this is something we should slow down on.”

One issue for police in Colorado, according to published reports, is determining when someone is high on marijuana. In each state that has allowed recreational use, it is illegal to drive under the influence, similar to laws against driving drunk.

But while there are well-established measures for determining alcohol intoxication, pot is more of a challenge. Traces of the drug can remain in the body long after the effects have worn off.

“Why don’t we figure that out before we do this,” said Van Drew.

Legalization advocates including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, point to what they see as an unfair application of the current law. Several studies have indicated that while a similar percentage of blacks and whites report marijuana use in surveys, a far greater percentage of African Americans are arrested, convicted and jailed on marijuana-related charges.

According to an American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey report from spring of 2017, tens of thousands of people are arrested on marijuana charges in the state each year, with Cape May County having the highest per-capita arrest rate.

Since Colorado voted to change its constitution to allow for legal recreational marijuana, it has grown into a billion-dollar industry, and more and more states are joining the trend, despite indications of a federal crackdown from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

As far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana remains illegal, including its use as medicine. It remains listed as a Schedule I drug, reserved for the most dangerous and addictive drugs, along with heroin, ecstasy and LSD, meaning doctors cannot legally prescribe it.

Sessions has moved to roll back Obama-era rules that offered some protection for growing and selling the drug under state rules. But in most states, some kind of medical marijuana is legal, and eight states and the District of Columbia have approved some level of sale for recreational use.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a law this week legalizing marijuana possession in that state. It is now legal in seven states, plus the District of Columbia, and voters in Massachusetts and Maine have also approved ballot measures that are expected to take effect later this year.

Load comments


The Current, The Gazette, The Leader and The Beachcomber are publications of The Press of Atlantic City and use many of the same submission tools as the daily paper.

Submit all written material for the weeklies to

Submit all photos at Photos can NOT be accepted by email.


  • Include the complete name of the group, school or other organization; where it’s located and what area it serves; the name and title, if applicable, of the person submitting the information; a person to contact with questions and whether the contact is only for us or for the public as well.
  • Information should be formatted as little as possible, without tabs or tables.


  • Photos should be high-resolution. Submit all photos at In the box labeled "People pictured in photos," list names with indications of how to determine who is who, such as “front row, from left.” In the box labeled "Description," tell us what is going on and note any relevant titles or relationships among those shown. Also state which newspaper you are submitting the photo for.


  • Take a picture when you travel of you or your group with one of our weeklies. Send us the picture with names, hometowns and the name of the place you visited. Submit all photos at


  • Letters must be fewer than 400 words and received by 9 a.m. Monday for publication the same week.


  • Student honor listings must be submitted by the school.


  • Information to be included in event or trip listings must be submitted online at Scroll down to where it says “Submit an event.” Click on “Go to Form.”
  • You are required to sign in using a username and password. If you have previously made an account, log in using the username and password you created. If you have NOT previously made an account with us, click on “Register Here” (under the Sign In button).
  • Once you have created a username and password, you will be taken to the calendar form. Fill out the form with the relevant information. Please remember that less is best for calendar listings. Note: If you include a website, it must be the full address. For example,, not

Click to submit your candidate bio and photo to be included in our upcoming General Election Voter Guide


Your ultimate resource guide to the science, storms and history of weather in South Jersey

Latest Local Offers

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News