U.S. Senate to look at legalizing pot, NJ school board speaks out against it

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- The U.S. Senate, led by Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Cory Booker, plans to make the historic move toward ending the federal prohibition on cannabis.

It would remove it from the federal list of controlled substances, which advocates hope would help end the disproportionate harm done to communities of color during the war on drugs.

Despite the fact that cannabis is illegal under federal law, the majority of Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal in one form or another -- and more than 90% of Americans believe it should be legalized for either adult or medical use.

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New Jersey, New York and Connecticut all recently moved to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, joining 16 other states.

"For decades, our federal government has waged a war on drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color," Booker said. "While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs."

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would also empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws.

It comes as the debate over legalized marijuana continues to rage, and as one school board in New Jersey is speaking out against the possibility of recreational cannabis establishments.

Paterson Board of Education President Kenneth Simmons wrote a letter to city residents, saying legalized marijuana poses a grave risk to children.

"Numbers show that the risk of our young people getting hooked on marijuana is far greater than the risk of their being addicted to tobacco or alcohol," he said. "Alcohol and tobacco are legally sold and consumed in this state and in this nation, and there is a direct impact on our youth. It is simply foolish to believe that establishing recreational cannabis dispensaries and other related businesses in the City of Paterson -- lawful as they may be -- will not harm Paterson youth. In other words, just because it's legal doesn't make it right."

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He said cannabis establishments would be allowed as close as 400 feet of a school, and that current laws limiting the purchase age for tobacco and alcohol don't prevent smoking and drinking. Similarly, he doesn't believe an establish minimum age of 21 to purchase marijuana would be effective.

"The introduction of recreation cannabis establishments in our community is in direct opposition of everything Paterson Public Schools seeks to accomplish by educating our young people and helping them realize their full potential," he said. "The city of Paterson projects that the ordinance will generate $1.5 million in annual revenue. A single child in Paterson is priceless. That is why I oppose any measure in favor of recreational cannabis establishments in our city."

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