Danielsen’s Assembly Committee Begins Fact-Finding On Cannabis Legislation

State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen on March 5 held the first of several hearings on cannabis legislation. More hearings are scheduled for different parts of the state, Photo: NJ Assembly Democrats.

If the March 5 hearing before the committee he chairs is any indication, state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen is going to have an interesting Spring.

Danielsen (D-17), chairman of the Assembly’s Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee, held the first of what are planned to be several public hearings on cannabis regulation.

To say interest in the topic was intense wold be an understatement.

“It was excellent, it was one of the best-attended committee meetings I think the Assembly’s had in a while,” Danielsen said. “It was beyond maximum capacity, plus they filled up an overflow room.”

“After five straight hours with no breaks, there was still a third of the people who never got heard,” he said. “There had to be 150 to 200 people there.”

Danielsen’s committee is on a fact-finding mission that may result in new marijuana legislation, or modifications to existing law.

Medical marijuana is legal in New Jersey, which has six approved medical marijuana dispensaries which serve about 13,000 patients. Gov. Phil Murphy last month ordered a 60-day review of current law, with an eye toward expanding the accessibility of medical marijuana and increasing the number of conditions for which it can be prescribed.

Danielsen’s committee’s task is to gather opinion and information about New Jersey’s current regulations on medical marijuana, the potential broadening of those regulations and the possible decriminalizing or legalizing of marijuana.

Danielsen said he is starting the process with a “blank slate.”

“There’s just so much testimony, so much data, so many claimed facts,” he said. “So many things you have to verify. People can say a lot of things. I’m not going to believe anything until I verify it, then I’ll let some opinion get rooted.”

Danielsen said his fellow committee members are of the same mindset.

“I think everybody is in the same place,” he said. “I don’t think anyone had a well-rooted opinion yet. I think everybody is really a  blank slate. It’s a really complex subject.”

There will be at least three more public hearings, one on April 21 at Rowan University in Glassboro, another on May 12 at Bergen Community College in Paramus and a third scheduled for April 14, at a Central Jersey location yet to be determined, Danielsen said.

Most of the people who testified at the March 5 hearing were in favor of expanding marijuana’s accessibility, although there were a few – three or four, Danielsen said – who were not.

Among those who testified in favor of expanding medical marijuana’s use was Long Branch resident Rob Cressen, who is the former executive director of the state Republican Committee.

Cressen said he suffers from a neurological disorder which keeps him in constant pain. Originally prescribed opiods, Cressen said he switched to medical marijuana.

“This disease has taken more form me than I care to describe,” he said. “My very best days are very, very hard. Every moment, every day hurts. I struggle with the basics: speech, mobility, bathing, cooking, even getting out of bed to dress myself is a struggle.”

“My life is compromised enough without taking these dangerous and addictive pain medications,” he said. “I refuse to spend the rest of my life in an opiod daze.”

“I’ve got 99 problems, but thanks to cannabis therapy, addiction to opiods is not one of them,” Cressen said.

The committee also heard from elected officials from as far away as Colorado, and marijuana activists and government officials from several states, all of whom deal with cannabis issues.

Danielsen said any decision will be made carefully.

“Everywhere I look, anyone who takes this issue seriously doesn’t want any quick changes in fear of doing it wrong the first time,” he said. “And anyone who tries to do this quickly is going to make mistakes. At a minimum, you have to let the public have a say. You have to have the hands of the public on the rudder also.”

Danielsen said he did notice some trends in the testimony on March 5.

“Nobody asked for decriminalization,” he said. “Some people asked for legalization, and I think everybody was OK with medical use.”

“Most industry and business experts are calling for slow and methodical growth that parallels your infrastructure buildout,” Danielsen said. “An expansion that is synergistic with the demand, and is not going beyond that so you don’t saturate the market.”


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