Interview with a legislator: Asm. Shavonda Sumter

Like almost every legislator, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter is considering the idea of legalizing cannabis in the state.

And, like almost every legislator, she has some questions about it.

“The Legislative Black Caucus is holding hearings to discuss the pros and the cons, so I’m keeping a very open mind,” Sumter (D-Paterson) said. “I’m in behavioral health, so, of course, my orientation is different, especially when it’s combined with other substances.

“We need to be cautious to not further the causes of addictions to rise when we don’t have enough treatment options now and (the ability to) pay for those types of services,” she said. “I need to emphasize that.”

Sumter spoke to ROI-NJ during the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce‘s annual Walk to Washington train trip.

She said cannabis brings a lot of issues and opportunities.

“The decriminalization part is critical to me as well, so we’re trying to come up with some legislation to support fully decriminalizing recreational use,” she said.

Sumter also recognizes the fact that cannabis could bring much-needed revenue to the state — but she wants to make sure it isn’t used as a substitute for what the state should be doing.

“I agree that we do need to find more revenue opportunities, but I do know that New Jersey is a small to midsize state and we haven’t do a great job of recruiting,” she said. “States like North Carolina have done a great job of poaching. We do have to make New Jersey business friendly, take away some of the over-regulation, because we need jobs at the end of the day.

“The marijuana industry, while it will get you an infusion of cash, does not create the jobs that we need.”

Sumter said she worries about issues cannabis brings other than revenue — and doesn’t like what she’s hearing from Colorado, the first state to legalize cannabis.

“(In Denver), there are more marijuana dispensaries than McDonald’s and Starbucks,” she said. “That was striking to me. Also, the high instances of children showing up to the Emergency Departments with ingestion of the edibles.”

Read all of ROI-NJ’s Walk to Washington coverage

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  • Booker: Millennial issue is everyone’s issue
  • Editor’s Desk: Murphy, Menendez show how gun debate is a business issue
  • From our print edition: ‘Head of sales’: Murphy says rebuilding state economy is a top priority, one he’ll lead personally
  • Walk to Washington: Overheard on the train
  • Interview with a legislator: Sen. Bob Gordon
  • Walk to Washington: Riders answer our four questions