NEWARK — Prohibition has failed in New Jersey, and it’s time for common-sense reforms that will legalize, tax and regulate the personal use of marijuana by adults.
That was the message delivered Wednesday by New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform — a new, broad-based coalition from New Jersey’s public safety, medical, civil rights, and criminal justice reform communities — at a news conference to announce the launch of its statewide campaign to control, tax and regulate marijuana.
The event marked the formal launch of the campaign and introduced its lead partners from across the state:
- American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ)
- Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
- NAACP State Conference of New Jersey
- Jon-Henry Barr, Esq., President, New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association
- William J. Caruso, Esq., Managing Director, Archer Public Affairs; Former Executive Director, New Jersey Assembly
- Dr. David L. Nathan, MD, DFAPA,Princeton-based psychiatrist and Clinical Associate Professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
In the coming year, New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform will work with allies and volunteers from across the state to build broad consensus in support of legalization from northern to southern New Jersey, across political lines, and from the public health and law enforcement communities. New Jerseyans will stand united in ending our state’s prohibition on marijuana.
"Today, we are launching this coalition because the status quo has failed, and it’s time to begin fixing our criminal justice system by ending unjust and discriminatory marijuana arrests,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
“New Jersey police make tens of thousands of arrests every year for marijuana possession even though the majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal,” Ofer said. “It’s time to stop turning otherwise law-abiding adults into criminals. It’s time to take marijuana out of the parks and street corners and into a regulated and licensed system for adults. “
New Jersey wastes more than $127 million enforcing marijuana laws every year, according to the 2013 ACLU report “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana would bring New Jersey significant revenue through a controlled marketplace, creating jobs and opportunities to reinvest in our communities. Law enforcement resources that could be better used to protect public safety would be preserved while reducing corrections and court costs associated with small marijuana possession arrests.
“As a municipal prosecutor, I have had to waste countless taxpayer dollars and hours of police officers’ time to prosecute New Jerseyans, usually just over a joint,” said Jon-Henry Barr, Esq., President of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association. “It's brought me to the point where I believe that legalization and regulation are the only way to ensure that prosecutors are not wasting precious taxpayer resources and that we have the time to prosecute serious crimes.”
Law enforcement officials have been some of the most vocal supporters of taxing, regulating and controlling marijuana use and distribution, pointing to the public safety costs of maintaining the status quo.
“New Jersey’s marijuana policies have failed, and continue to fail to effectively address the problems of drug abuse, especially the problems of juvenile drug use, the problems of addiction, and the problems of crime caused by the existence of a criminal market in drugs,” said Lieutenant Jack Cole (Ret.), a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police, and co-founder and board chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Regulation of marijuana will enhance public safety by striking a blow to the illegal drug market and will free up New Jersey law enforcement resources to focus on serious crime.”
New Jersey police make more than 21,000 arrests every year for marijuana possession. These arrests disproportionately affect New Jersey’s black community according to the ACLU report. The consequences of being arrested for possession of even a small amount of marijuana can include up to six months in jail, loss of job and driver’s license suspension, and more than $1,000 in fees and fines.
“New Jersey’s marijuana laws are failing people of color. Black people in New Jersey are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar usage rates,” said Richard Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “Today’s announcement is a game-changer for our community. Marijuana regulation will eliminate thousands of arrests per year and provide new sources of revenue to invest in our communities for education, jobs and public safety.”
For the vast majority of people who consume marijuana today, the greatest harms are not health-related. They are the criminal and civil sanctions that can prohibit them from securing employment, housing or an education.
“Throughout my career as a clinical psychiatrist, I have borne witness to the devastation brought upon marijuana users — not so much by misuse of the drug, but by a justice system that uses a sledgehammer to kill a weed. Currently, the criminal consequences of marijuana use are far worse than the medical consequences, and this is a national tragedy,” said Dr. David Nathan, MD, a Princeton-based psychiatrist. “Marijuana possession should be legal for adults, and we should use revenues from marijuana taxation to educate young people about the actual harms caused by its recreational use.”
In addition to the leadership of NJUMR, organizations and individuals from across New Jersey have endorsed the launch of the campaign, including:
- Dominick Bucci, Retired New Jersey State Police Lieutenant
- Jack Cole, Retired New Jersey State Police Lieutenant and co-founder and board chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
- Tim Datig, Retired NYPD Officer, Vermont Police Chief, and New Jersey State Resident
- Reverend James A. Dunkins, Senior Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church of Port Norris and Vineland
- Help Not Handcuffs
- Marijuana Policy Project
- New Jersey Citizen Action
- New Jersey Libertarian Party
- New Jersey Policy Perspective
- New Jersey Tenants Organization
- New Jersey United Students
- NORML New Jersey
The NJUMR steering committee also announced the launch of www.NJMarijuanaReform.org, a clearinghouse for information and activism in support of controlling, taxing and regulating adult marijuana use and possession.
New Jersey would become the fifth state to reform its marijuana laws by creating a regulated system. Ballot measures to legalize marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington in 2012, andin Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., in 2014.