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New Jersey lawmakers moved one step closer to legalizing marijuana on the recreational level this week as a bill that would legalize the substance advanced to the state Legislature, now awaiting a vote from lawmakers and then a signature from Governor Phil Murphy.

Lawmakers who support these efforts are onto something.

The health benefits of marijuana have become broad knowledge among the general population. It can help manage pain, act as a muscle relaxant, stimulate appetite and ease the symptoms of PTSD and other health-related ailments, according to research from Harvard and numerous studies. In 33 states, medical marijuana is currently legal and prescribed to patients for an array of symptoms. The Washington Post cited a study from New Frontier Data that estimates $132 billion and 1 million jobs could be generated if marijuana were legalized nationwide.

In 2018, Colorado netted over $223 million in taxes, licenses and fee revenue for marijuana. Other states who have legalized marijuana on the recreational level report similar tax revenues. Most of this money is invested in Colorado state affairs, like education and public health via a school health-professionals grant, and substance abuse, mental health and treatment services, according to Westword.

The prohibition of marijuana has also landed countless people in jail and sacked them with large fines for using a plant that is virtually harmless. Adult-aged offenders are also dogged by a criminal record for marijuana-related offenses.

So, a plant that can aid many health problems and generate massive funds which can be used for productive measures is currently prohibited in many states and entirely on the federal level?

With the recent moves toward recreational legalization in New Jersey, our state is one step closer to catching up with popular sentiment and common sense. According to Pew Research, 62% of Americans support legalization, and this percentage has steadily increased over the decades. As more and more evidence of the benefits continues to mount, the number will likely to continue to rise. With substances like alcohol and tobacco (both of which pose serious health risks to users) legal, it prompts the question: What is holding back certain lawmakers from supporting marijuana’s legalization?

One of the more widely aired concerns centers around driving while high and the inability to adequately administer a sobriety test that could pinpoint if someone was high at the time of driving. Drugabuse.gov notes that the evidence for these concerns is currently conflicting, with several meta-analyses of studies citing a significant increase in crash risk, whereas the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no significant increased crash risk attributable to marijuana.

This worry is valid, of course, but it should not be used to promote a full-out ban and criminalization of a substance that offers so many benefits.

As efforts move forward to legalize marijuana on the recreational level in New Jersey, lawmakers should keep in mind the many proven benefits of doing so, from the financial to the physical.

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