Law enforcement, civil rights, and medical leaders speak to the harms of marijuana enforcement and the $300 million NJ could see yearly in tax revenue from marijuana sales
Key members of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) coalition testified at a legislative hearing to discuss a bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults in New Jersey. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Nicholas Scutari convened the hearing to discuss S3195, which would make possession of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
Advocates who testified from NJUMR, a diverse coalition of advocates leading the fight to legalize marijuana, included:
- Jon-Henry Barr, Prosecutor of Clark, NJ, and Secretary and Former President of New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association
- Lieut. Nick Bucci, retired NJ State Trooper and Law Enforcement Action Partnership member
- Dianna Houenou, Policy Counsel,ACLU-NJ
- Leadership from Latino Action Network
- Leadership from the NAACP New Jersey State Conference
- Dr. David Nathan, psychiatrist and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
“As a prosecutor, I have seen too many taxpayer dollars and too many hours of law enforcement’s time go toward bringing charges for small amounts of marijuana,” said Jon-Henry Barr, secretary and past president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors’ Association, as well as the municipal prosecutor of Clark, in Union County. “Our current approach does a disservice to the people of New Jersey and to our justice system by taking up resources that could be spent on more pressing public safety concerns. It’s time to stop the failed policy of prohibition and to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults.”
The consequences of an arrest for possession of even a small amount of marijuana can include up to six months in jail, loss of jobs, driver’s license suspension, and more than $1,000 in fees and fines.
Advocates in NJUMR have called for marijuana legalization in New Jersey to include the following policies:
- Reinvestment in communities hit hardest by the inequalities built into marijuana enforcement
- Legalization of home-grown marijuana for individuals
- Automatic expungement of arrests for those convicted of marijuana possession
- Low barriers to owning a marijuana business or working in the legal marijuana market, especially given the unfairness in marijuana prohibition and its enforcement
- Caps on licensing fees to sell marijuana within the regulated system
“Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s, and it doesn’t work now – I saw that firsthand as a narcotics detective,” said Nick Bucci, a retired New Jersey State Police Lieutenant and a member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership. “It’s in everyone’s interest for marijuana to be safely regulated and controlled, especially if we want to keep it out of the hands of kids. If you care about public safety, public health, or a just society, marijuana legalization is the only path that makes sense.”
A 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jerseyans supported legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults, coinciding with nationwide growth in support for marijuana legalization.
“Public support for legalized marijuana has never been greater, and, unfortunately, neither have marijuana arrest numbers or racial disparities in those arrests,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “There is simply no reason to cling to unjust policies that further entrench mass incarceration, worsen racial disparities, and continue to ruin people’s lives. For the sake of racial justice, and for the sake of people who are suffering because of these laws to no one’s benefit, it’s time to legalize marijuana.”
Last week, NJUMR steering committee member the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey released a report closely analyzing the racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Statewide, despite similar usage rates, Black people were arrested at a rate three times higher than white people. However, in 20 municipalities, the Black arrest rate for marijuana possession in 2013 was at least eight times higher than that of whites.
“Black individuals in New Jersey are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates,” said Richard Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “This is one of the most serious civil rights issues we face in New Jersey. This discriminatory double standard has only gotten worse over the years, and it’s time for these policies to end.”
In 2014, New Jersey made 24,689 marijuana possession arrests, a number that has nearly doubled since 1993. According to the ACLU-NJ, New Jersey spends on average more than $127 million per year enforcing marijuana laws. New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform found that New Jersey could see more than $300 million in sales tax revenue each year from legalizing marijuana, creating both jobs and opportunities to reinvest in communities.
The vast majority of adults experience no harm from occasional marijuana use and most doctors in America share that belief, said Dr. David Nathan, a Princeton-based psychiatrist and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.
“The prohibition of marijuana has inflicted far more harm on Americans than the drug itself, and it’s time for these failed policies to end,” Dr. Nathan said. “Prohibition has failed to prevent underage use, invites contempt for the law, and perpetuates injustice in our society.”
To date, eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana. States that have ended prohibition have seen economic growth, and a study showed that the introduction of medical marijuana decreased opioid overdoses by an average of about 23 percent.
“Our resources should go toward building up and strengthening communities, not needlessly throwing adults in jail for a substance most New Jerseyans believe should be legal,” said Lazaro Cardenas, a steering committee member of the Latino Action Network.
New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform is a partnership of public safety, medical, civil rights, faith, political and criminal justice reform organizations and individuals committed to changing New Jersey’s laws to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults. NJUMR believes it’s time to move away from our failed approach to marijuana, and build a safe, controlled and regulated system.
NJUMR Steering Committee: ACLU of New Jersey | Jon-Henry Barr, Esq. – Secretary and Former President of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association | William J. Caruso, Esq. – Managing Director of Archer Public Affairs | Doctors for Cannabis Regulation | Latino Action Network | Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) | NAACP New Jersey State Conference | NORML NJ