NJ United for Marijuana Reform: ‘A bill addressing injustices is a key step to ending race disparities & bringing in 100s of millions’

With the introduction today of a bill to legalize marijuana use by adults, New Jersey could be one step closer to making our laws fairer and generating hundreds of millions in revenue for the state, advocates from New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform said today. NJUMR looks forward to reviewing this new legislation and continuing to work with the senator and his colleagues to aggressively advocate for the passage of a fair and just law.

“In two decades of psychiatric practice, I have seen many lives ruined by marijuana – rarely because of the drug itself, but because of the damage done by the unnecessary, ineffective and harmful prohibition of that drug,” said Dr. David Nathan, a Princeton-based psychiatrist who founded the international organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. "I take seriously my ethical obligation to do no harm and to make decisions based on evidence.  The prohibition of marijuana violates both of these principles."

Senator Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill to allow adults 21 and older to use marijuana, which would be taxed and regulated by the state. Advocates from NJUMR, a coalition of civil rights groups, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other thought leaders, praised the introduction of the legislation as a step in ending the failed war on marijuana in New Jersey.

“As a prosecutor for more than 16 years, I have seen what the war on marijuana looks like up close: wasted resources and wasted potential,” said JH Barr, municipal prosecutor of Clark, and former president and current secretary of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association. “Every time someone in my town court gets arrested and taken into custody for marijuana possession, I see a lost opportunity to confront real public safety threats because law enforcement is occupied with punishing people needlessly. It’s time to legalize marijuana for adults in New Jersey.”

NJUMR praised Senator Scutari for taking the step of introducing a bill, which coalition members plan to analyze more closely in the coming week. The NJUMR coalition’s steering committee includes:  the ACLU of New Jersey; Jon-Henry Barr, former president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association; Bill Caruso, managing director at Archer Public Affairs; the Latino Action Network; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; NAACP New Jersey State Conference; Dr. David Nathan, psychiatrist and founding president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation; and NORML NJ.

“The war on marijuana is an instrument of racial discrimination, and the inequalities it perpetuates have only gotten worse over time,” said R. Todd Edwards, political action director of the NAACP NJ State Conference. “It’s time to end these racial disparities in arrests and imprisonment, and that begins with legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana. Possession is one of the most common reasons that people in New Jersey are serving time in our jails, and it’s one of the most significant sources of racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

The coalition launched officially in 2013 with the goal of ending New Jersey’s “war on marijuana users,” which costs the state millions and disproportionately harms people of color. In addition creating a regulated system, a bill creating a legal marketplace for marijuana would need certain measures in place guaranteeing individual rights and equity to garner the coalition’s unqualified support, especially given the injustices built into marijuana prohibition and its enforcement.

“This legislation could potentially bring us one step closer to ending a civil rights crisis that has ensnared people of color and left a stain on New Jersey – but we need to make sure this legislation addresses the injustices wrought by marijuana prohibition,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “Too many lives have been ruined by drug-war policies that were deliberately crafted to disproportionately target Black individuals. We thank Senator Scutari for introducing a bill, and we hope it has the potential to right these longstanding wrongs. New Jerseyans deserve a system that allows for as many people as possible to join the legal market, as barriers to entry only serve to strengthen the illegal, unregulated marketplace instead.”

Advocates in NJUMR have called for:

  • Reinvestment in communities hit hardest by the inequalities built into the enforcement of marijuana
  • Legalization of home-grown marijuana for individuals
  • No licensure disqualifications based on prior criminal convictions, especially given the unfairness in marijuana prohibition and its enforcement
  • Caps on licensing fees

“I served as a law enforcement officer in the failed war on drugs for decades. I consider it a personal mission to do all I can to make sure this generation of police is the last to perform the fool’s errand of upholding prohibition,” said Lieut. Nick Bucci, a retired New Jersey State Police officer. “The criminal justice system sees each marijuana arrest as just a box to tick on a checklist, but behind those statistics are individual human beings whose lives will be far more difficult in almost every respect. It’s time for this misguided course to come to an end.”

The introduction of the bill comes a week before an anticipated May 22 ACLU-NJ report documenting 13 years of marijuana arrest data and showing stark racial disparities in our state. NJUMR and New Jersey Policy Perspective last year released a report estimating that New Jersey could see revenue of $300 million per year from legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adult use.

"At a time when New Jersey is staring down the barrel of record budget deficits, it is no surprise that many of the state's gubernatorial candidates have embraced marijuana legalization as a promising option for our future," said NJUMR Steering Committee Member Bill Caruso, managing director of Archer Public Affairs. "Our organization was proud to release a report with New Jersey Policy Perspective last year identifying between $300 million and $1 billion dollars in new tax revenue that New Jersey could see from marijuana legalization. New Jerseyans have reason to welcome the prospect of an entirely new industry forming in our state, bringing with it new opportunities to strengthen our economy, as we have seen  happen in other states that have legalized marijuana."

New Jersey has one of the highest racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates in the country, according to a national ACLU report released in 2013. Black individuals in New Jersey were arrested at a rate about three times higher than the rate of arrests for white individuals for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates. Someone is arrested every 22 minutes in New Jersey on average for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU.

A marijuana arrest for possessing even a small amount can leave a lifelong impact, foreclosing opportunities for student loans, barring people from public housing, and even affecting custody of children.