Reefer madness: Spaced out

Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex) perhaps unwittingly provided an opportunity for Democrats to explain the destruction caused by marijuana criminalization when he repeated an apocryphal anecdote painting the affluent university city of Boulder, Colorado, in an interview with the New Jersey Herald as “disgusting” since the legalization of marijuana in that state.

polls-space-450a.jpgThe Herald had asked him about legalizing pot in New Jersey.

“A constituent of mine told me the story of his visit to Boulder, Colorado, and how disgusting he found it — people lying in the walkable town center, stoned, dirty and like zombies that you practically had to walk over,” he said, adding that many of the zombies had their children with them.

“He [the anonymous constituent] told me not to let that happen in Sussex County.

Space’s comments inspired a response by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who represents Boulder: “Zombies? Maybe he visited our city during our Halloween Mall crawl.”

Gina Trish and Kate Matteson, Democrats who will run against Space and Harold Wirths for Assembly seats, also responded—by pointing out the numerous drawbacks of having marijuana illegal, including making criminals out of tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding residents, saying in a joint statement: Every year, we spend millions locking up petty drug offenders, wasting tax dollars and destroying families. We will fight to legalize marijuana and ensure Northwest New Jersey is able to profit from this new industry.”

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) says the law should be changed, and while that won’t be possible under Chris Christie, Sweeney will move for legalization when a new governor takes over in 2018.

Last year New Jersey legislators toured Denver and Boulder to see how legal marijuana works, and came away with a distinctly different impression than that of Space’s anonymous complainer, saying the industry had generated 29,000 jobs and reduce drugs arrests by around 80 percent. Colorado officials also reported $135 million in tax revenue from medical and recreational marijuana in a single year.

“And the sky hasn't fallen," said Sen. Nicholas Scutari(D-Union "These are neighborhoods you would be proud to say you represented or lived in."

In New Jersey close to half of all drug arrests are for pot, and enforcement of marijuana laws topped $127 million in 2010. Penalties for possession can be severe, and unlike in many states, New Jersey has actually increased arrests for marijuana possession in the last few years; about 25,000 people each year face fines, loss of employment, loss of voting privileges and incarceration for indulging in a private recreational practice that most state residents believe should be legal and that policy experts estimate could bring in as much as $300 million in sales tax annually.

But Sussex County’s Republican assemblyman is still invoking the spectre of weed-whacked “zombies” that first appeared in the 1936 cult classic “Reefer Madness.”

Out of touch much, GOP?