Pennacchio says legalizing pot in NJ will increase crime, put families at risk

Senate Republican Whip Joe Pennacchio (R-26) urged legislative leaders and Governor-elect Phil Murphy not to put innocent families at risk by rushing to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, in light of reports that crime rates have actually risen in Colorado since the state enacted full legalization of the drug.

“Our first priority as legislators must be to protect the people we were elected to serve,” Senator Pennacchio said. “Crime rates in Colorado are rising faster than almost anywhere else in the country. That’s not a coincidence. We cannot allow this to happen in New Jersey. Governor-elect Murphy – don’t pay for legal pot with people’s lives. It’s not worth it.”

In New Jersey, violent crime has dropped every year for five straight years. In Colorado, the increase in crime in 2016 was more than 11 times the average increase in the 30 largest cities in the nation. Denver Police statistics show an increase in all types of crime rates since legalization, including a 20 percent increase in drug violations and a 237 percent increase in crimes such as public drunkenness.

Law enforcement officials in Colorado have also observed an increase in organized crime since legalization. In Denver, police officers are executing between five and nine search warrants each week to tackle illegal grow operations in the area, putting innocent residents and business owners in harm’s way.

Pennacchio noted that legislative leaders should also consider the impact legalization could have on the safety of New Jersey’s children. According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Report, Colorado’s youth marijuana rate, the highest in the nation, is 74 percent higher than the national average.

For those concerned about how marijuana arrests are impacting minority communities, Senator Pennacchio noted that, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests of black and latino youth have actually increased 58 and 29 percent respectively post-legalization.

Marijuana tax revenue generated a mere $156,701,018 for Colorado in fiscal year 2016, which only accounts for 1.18 percent of the state’s total tax revenue. The cost of marijuana legalization in public awareness campaigns, law enforcement, and other preventative costs remains a growing concern.

“Right now, we should be focusing on making New Jersey more affordable,” Senator Pennacchio said. “You can’t legalize marijuana without also increasing the number of police officers walking the beat. In case Democrats have forgotten, New Jersey is in the midst of a pension and health benefits crisis. How much more can we ask taxpayers to pay for public safety? Legal weed is a bad deal for the people of New Jersey.”

Senator Pennacchio was among the first to express concerns about Governor-elect Murphy’s plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use within the first 100 days of his administration. Read Sen. Pennacchio’s statement outlining the impact on New Jersey’s roadways and driver/pedestrian safety here.

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