TRENTON – Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli said he would push for a voter referendum to repeal marijuana legalization, if he’s elected governor and its rollout proves to be problematic.

In a debate on New Jersey 101.5, Ciattarelli said the program is off to a shaky start.

“I’m all for decriminalization, but now we have outright legalization. But I will tell you, I don’t think this is what the people of New Jersey signed up for,” said Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman making his second bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

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“Take a look at the bill that was passed,” he said. “We have basically handcuffed our local police, who previously were allowed to go up to teenagers who they smelled weed or alcohol, confiscate it and call the parents. Now they cannot. This isn’t what the people of New Jersey signed up for. We only made the job of local police harder with the bill that Democrats have passed.”

Voters last November overwhelmingly endorsed the approval of adult-use recreational marijuana, when 67% of voters supported it in a referendum. It was approved by wide margins in all 21 counties.

“I did not support the ballot referendum last November. It’s been approved by the people of New Jersey, which means the only way to remove it would be to put it back on the ballot,” Ciattarelli said. “As governor, my first term, if this rollout of recreational marijuana as legalized now is a failure, I will advocate for it to go back on the ballot. We can reverse that decision.”

Hirsh Singh, a South Jersey engineer making his second bid for governor, said he would proceed with legalization and that people should be allowed to grow marijuana plants at home as a counter to relying on corporate-owned dispensaries.

“I think that the model that we saw in California is the worst model possible,” Singh said. “Let’s make sure we don’t follow it.”

“Prohibition of marijuana causes black markets to really infest our schools because there’s a profit motive,” he said. “But what we saw in California is they used a corporate model for marijuana, which really increased the price, which made it today have the largest black market for marijuana in the entire globe. That is a tragedy. It’s the exact opposite of all intents and purposes.”

Singh said marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and that the proceeds should pay for police pensions.

“We need to get our law enforcement not to have to go after these real trivial type of issues, and I think that we need to focus our efforts more on more dangerous narcotics that are out there,” Singh said. “… We need to move in a direction to remove it from prohibition.”

Asked to clarify that he would continue with legalization, Singh affirmed that.

“Yes, but without corporate,” Singh said. “A not corporate marketplace. I want it to be – people can grow it in their own backyards. Let’s remove it being a special thing.”

The primary is June 8. In addition to Ciattarelli and Singh, there are two other candidates that didn’t qualify for the state-sanctioned debate: Brian Levine and Philip Rizzo.

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