As the campaign begins to try and convince undecided Garden State lawmakers to support legislation that would legalize recreational pot for adults, the Medical Society of New Jersey has come out strongly against the idea.

According to Medical Society CEO Larry Downs, opposition to legal weed is based on recent data that looks at roadway dangers, negative effects on adolescent brain development and fetal development, risk of respiratory diseases and other health conditions.

If, however, the Legislature does wind up approving recreational pot, the Medical Society is calling for a series of steps to be taken to protect public health.

Recommendations include prohibiting the sale of marijuana products to anyone under the age of 25, and prohibiting marketing and advertising to youth — similar to current restrictions on tobacco advertising.

“Marijuana has detrimental effects that have been recently published in literature around future depression, suicide attempts and things of that nature, so our recommendations are to keep it as tightly controlled as possible,” said Downs.

The Medical Society is also calling for printed advisories to be included on all pot products that would state “marijuana used increases the risk of serious problems with mental and physical health, including addiction.”

“There should be adequate and explicit warnings on the products so that consumers know that it is a product
not recommended to be consumed in terms of improving health," he said Wednesday.

Downs said the Medical Society is also calling for potency information to be included on marijuana labels, “just
to make sure that individuals understand what they’re ingesting and the amounts they’re ingesting.”

Advocates of legalization point to research showing how decades of concerns about marijuana use have been overblown and how moderate use of marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.

But some lawmakers in New Jersey worry that legalization could be interpreted as an endorsement of marijuana use and make it easier for teens to obtain it.

The Medical Society recommends using part of the revenue from marijuana sales to fund a public health messaging campaign to help people understand what the dangers of using the product are, particularly among young people.

Downs said the Medical Society also wants all marijuana products to come in child-proof packaging.

The Medical Society is also calling for marijuana and marijuana product sales to be limited to state-operated outlets.

“We have lots of lessons learned in the alcohol and tobacco world that could be applied at the forefront of legalizing this product,” he said.

So how many of these recommendations are really possible?

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, believes many of the suggestions put forth make a lot of sense.

“Ensuring that we don’t market to children, that you make it unattractive through packaging — I’m all in favor of.”

However he said prohibiting the sale of marijuana to those under the age of 25 is not a realistic possibility.

“We have a smoking age of 21, we have a drinking age of 21, we have young men and women who serve in the military at 18," he said. "Twenty-one I think you’re mature enough."

Sweeney pointed out that “there’s underage drug use going on right now illegally.

"Young people are smoking products and we have no idea whether they’re safe or not, so government getting involved and making sure rules are enforced is very important.”

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