With an avowed enemy of marijuana legalization sworn-in as the nation's Attorney General Thursday, the state lawmaker working to make pot available for recreational use in New Jersey said he is "concerned" but not deterred from his goal.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) said he's putting the finishing touches on a bill he will introduce that would make the sale and possession of marijuana legal for recreational use in New Jersey.
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' appointment as the highest law enforcement officer in the nation doesn't change his plans.
"It doesn't give me pause. It's a concern but we are not going to pause," Scutari told NJ Advance Media Thursday. "Hopefully he will follow what President Trump said as a candidate -- that it's a states' rights issue."
The law won't change while Gov. Chris Christie remains in office. His term expires in January 2018.
Days before his surprise victory in November, Trump described a hands-off philosophy toward marijuana legalization.
"In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state," Trump said during a rally outside Reno, Nev.
Marijuana is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington D.C. On Nov. 8, recreational marijuana was approved by voter referendum in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada.
"I've got to take him at his word," Scutari said of Trump. "Hopefully Sen. Sessions will follow the edict of the president."
Sessions, whose appointment was approved by the Senate Wednesday, has made his disdain for marijuana clear.
When he was U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot." Last year, Sessions opined: "Good people don't smoke marijuana." He also said: "We need grownups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it's in fact a very real danger."
Marijuana legalization advocates fear Sessions will go after businesses that sell weed, which remains a violation of federal law.
Backed by social justice activists, Scutari argues the enforcement of marijuana laws has put more minorities in jail than white people despite similar arrest rates.
A growing of state lawmakers are warming to the idea based on the record of revenue Colorado has enjoyed since its law took effect in 2014. In taxes and fees, Colorado took in $135 million in 2015. The potential financial benefits of legalization were highlighted in a report estimating New Jersey could reap $300 million a year in sales tax revenue.
The legal marijuana market was valued at $6.7 billion in the United States and Canada, according to Arcview Market Research, which specializes in the cannabis industry.
Gov. Chris Christie is also opposed to legal marijuana for recreational use. Christie has reluctantly implemented a law signed by Gov. Jon Corzine to create a medical marijuana program, which served nearly 11,000 people as of January.
With Christie gone as of January 2018, Scutari said he hopes his bill will become law under the next administration.