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Weed comes to N.J.; can Pa. be far behind?

Now that the New Jersey Legislature has approved the mechanism to start the sale of small amounts of recreational marijuana, the pressure will build on Pennsylvania to do the same.

New Jersey officially became the 13th state to legalize marijuana as Gov. Phil Murphy last week signed three bills that put an exclamation point on the will of Garden State voters. Twenty other states, including Pennsylvania, have legalized medical marijuana use. The federal government still considers any marijuana use as a crime.

New Jersey’s legislators overwhelmingly approved a referendum last year to add the Garden State to the growing number of states which want to cash in on what politicians see as a Fort Knox of newfound revenue at a time when money is desperately needed to make up for lost revenues because of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

Although Pennsylvania has a Democrat for a governor - Tom Wolf - just as Murphy is, both houses of our General Assembly are dominated by Republicans, who are more conservative when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana. New Jersey’s Legislature has a Democratic majority.

Local legislators Reps. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, and Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill/Carbon, oppose legalization. Knowles said it is counterintuitive to be concerned about the misuse of opioids, tobacco and alcohol, then legalize marijuana use.

Last year, Wolf proposed legalizing recreational marijuana use in Pennsylvania, claiming that it will decriminalize a widespread activity that is viewed as acceptable by a majority of adults. He also touted it as a revenue raiser to plug anticipated budget revenue gaps created by COVID-19 issues.

There was immediate blowback from Republicans, so this is why political observers were shocked last week when Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, announced that he has proposed legislation that would set up a cannabis industry that encourages small-business entrepreneurs. Laughlin made sure, however, that residents did not forget that he is a conservative, because part of the legislation would nullify a federal rule that prohibits marijuana users from buying guns.

Democrats have been trying for more than three decades to get marijuana use approved for adult recreational use, but their efforts never amounted to much because of stiff Republican opposition.

Laughlin hasn’t always been a proponent of legalizing marijuana. Even now, he says that he is going down this road to address the building reality of popular public opinion. “Pennsylvania has virtually already legalized marijuana through the medical marijuana program,” Laughlin said. “All you have to say is that you have a bad back and you’re in. This bill simply recognizes reality.”

Much of the opposition to this kind of bill rests with the opioid epidemic which has taken so many lives nationwide. In fact, Gov. Wolf declared a statewide emergency in January 2018 to deal with the opioid crisis and has renewed the declaration several times since then.

The long-standing argument about marijuana legalization centers on the questionable theory that it is a gateway to stronger drugs such as heroin, crack, etc.

States on the East Coast where weed is legal are Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, but there are bills in many other state legislatures, and most political observers believe that New Jersey’s action will boost efforts in these states, too.

Before any of you jump into your vehicles to drive to Phillipsburg or any other border communities, you need to know that it will still be close to a year before sales start. That’s the time it will take to set up the infrastructure and mechanisms to make sure the program is rolled out correctly and efficiently.

I marvel at how far we have come in attitudes toward the use of marijuana. When I was an eighth-grader at Ginter Junior High School in Summit Hill, we were compelled to watch a 1936 propaganda film called “Reefer Madness.” There were showings at the Capitol Theater in town for parents, too.

The purpose of the film was to frighten us as it showed teenage marijuana users ultimately descend into madness. Quite frankly, most of us didn’t know anything about marijuana back then; some of my friends were more interested in alcohol.

The film was quite graphic, and several of my classmates were so upset that they told their parents, who complained to our principal, Daniel McLaughlin.

McLaughlin defended the film, saying that it was intended to “scare” us into not using marijuana or any other drugs.

Did it work? I have no way of knowing. All I can say on my own behalf is that I have never experimented with illegal drugs - not even once.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.