NJ: Ocean County Freeholder Calls Weed More Addictive Than Cocaine; Experts Disagree

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Marijuana is more addictive than cocaine.

That’s what Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said Wednesday evening in support of the county government’s decision to oppose the legalization of pot for recreational use in New Jersey. You can listen to the audio of his speech above.

Medical experts have a different take on the issue, but this is how the freeholder explained it.

Little noted that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Schedule 1 drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no accepted medical use under federal law and a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said that puts marijuana in the same federal classification as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, Quaaludes and peyote – all Schedule 1 drugs.

“As an example, cocaine is a ‘Schedule 2 drug,’ which is less addictive,” Little said.

A group of researchers led by Professor David Nutt, former chief drugs adviser to the British government, asked drug-harm experts to rank 20 legal and illegal drugs on 16 measures of harm to the user and to wider society, including damage to health, dependency, economic costs and crime.

The 2010 findings, published in the leading medical journal The Lancet, placed alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, tobacco and amphetamine ahead of cannabis.

By the same measure, crack cocaine caused nearly three times as much user and societal harm as cannabis, while cocaine caused nearly a third more user and societal harm.

The user harm alone for crack cocaine was nearly four times the amount for marijuana; for cocaine, it was nearly twice the toll for marijuana.

The comparisons matter in the Garden State.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office on Jan. 16, campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Under the Democratic governor’s proposal, cannabis sales would result in an estimated $300 million in new tax revenue.

“Whatever the tax revenues the state may realize from this proposal, there may be socioeconomic, mental health and dependency consequences that far exceed the economic benefit,” Little said. “The message to our children is something that we felt compelled to speak out about.”

The all-Republican freeholder board voted 4-to-0 in support of the resolution against legalization; a symbolic gesture that does not possess the weight of law.

Several Ocean County towns, however, already have banned the cultivation and sale of weed within their municipal boundaries should the state Legislature eventually support the governor’s proposal. Toms River, Berkeley, Point Pleasant Beach, Lavallette and Seaside Heights have all taken a stand against recreational pot, with other local communities expected to soon follow.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated an Obama-era policy not to interfere in the internal affairs of states that allow marijuana for medical or recreational uses. The decision by Sessions gives U.S. attorneys the discretion to pursue marijuana cases, although it remains uncertain if many will do so.

Nevertheless, a Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans are in support of marijuana legalization.

Freeholder Virginia E. Haines said legalization would reverse more than 30 years of work the public health sector has done to reduce the number of Americans who smoke nicotine and tobacco products.

“Billions of dollars have been spent on anti-smoking (campaigns), because of what it does to a person’s health,” Haines said. “About 480,000 Americans die from cigarette smoke each year.”

For every $10 spent on health care, almost $1 is the result of smoking-related illnesses and diseases, she observed.

“Now the governor of the state of New Jersey wants to allow people to smoke marijuana,” Haines lamented. “If this isn’t the complete opposite of what we have been talking about for 30 to 35 years, especially to young people not to smoke – my father died from smoking. So I know exactly what that disease can do to the lungs.”

While the freeholder said she supports the use of medical marijuana, she opined that pot for recreational purposes would increase health care costs and ultimately result in more drug-related deaths.

“A lot of people say it’s not a gateway drug, I disagree,” Haines said. “I know personally that it is a gateway drug and have lost somebody in my family, so I do believe it is wrong for the governor to do this. I am totally opposed to legalizing marijuana.”

Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. criticized the governor’s projection that $300 million in tax revenue could be raised from recreational marijuana sales.

“That’s preposterous,” Bartlett objected. “Do you know why? Because this has to be a cash economy. Because it is federally illegal. … A business selling marijuana in New Jersey or any other state, cannot deposit that money in a bank (subject to federal regulation). So, if you can’t deposit in a bank, you can’t write a check to the bank. If it’s cash, it never sees the books. So how in the heck is the state going to collect tax revenues on a cash economy?”

Bartlett said he is aware of the governor’s proposal to establish a state-run bank that would focus the investment of tax dollars in small businesses, student loans and infrastructure projects.

“Anyone would have to be out of their mind to put money in a state bank,” Bartlett said, who conjured up images of Depression-era bank runs due to a lack of support from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari questioned how legalization would impact New Jersey’s culture. For example, he expressed fears over the sort of tourism it could foster, particularly in the summertime when Ocean County’s population of 580,000 increases to 1.3 million.

“You realize that we have people coming not only from all over the United States but from different parts of the world? They’ll come over here, they’ll say, ‘well, it’s legal, I can smoke all the marijuana I want,’” Vicari warned.

“The opiate problem is unbelievable,” the freeholder continued. “More and more people will be addicted to drugs because I believe – as Freeholder Haines mentioned before – that (marijuana) is a gateway drug.”

Freeholder Jack Kelly did not attend Wednesday’s session and no one seated in the public spoke out at the meeting about the issue.

However, Michael B. Cooke, 44, a real estate lawyer from Toms River who has previously run for freeholder on the Democratic ticket, expressed bemusement after he learned of the board’s position.

“You have to wonder what it is they’re smoking,” Cooke said.