Legislation to Decriminalize Marijuana Must Advance Swiftly, and Legislation to Implement Marijuana Legalization in NJ Must Center Racial and Social Justice, ACLU-NJ Says

November 9, 2020

TRENTON – In hearings today, advocates testified before the Senate Judiciary and Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations committees and urged lawmakers to legalize marijuana in a way that centers racial and social justice and immediately decriminalize marijuana. Lawmakers held the hearings on a Monday morning after posting the legalization bill on Friday evening, leaving little time for New Jerseyans to consider the details of the proposals.

Legalization will provide significant benefits to New Jerseyans, especially New Jerseyans of color, who currently suffer racially disparate policing and long-term collateral consequences related to marijuana enforcement.

Advocates called on lawmakers to reduce the criminal legal impacts of marijuana arrests immediately by passing legislation to decriminalize cannabis before putting in place legislation to legalize and regulate the new regulated market. Following the overwhelming passage of a ballot question put before voters to legalize marijuana, lawmakers are tasked with crafting legislation to make legalization a reality and to end marijuana arrests in the Garden State.

Advocates have named three key provisions that legislation implementing legalization needs to include for racial and social equity:

  • Directing revenue toward investment in communities hit hardest by the war on drugs, and in particular Black and brown communities.
  • Ensuring access to licenses for individuals from disproportionately harmed communities and those with prior cannabis-related criminal records.
  • Creating ongoing funding for expungement, to ensure that it is accessible to individuals criminalized by marijuana prohibition.

In New Jersey, an arrest for a marijuana-related charge takes place every 15 minutes on average, with Black people being 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than white people, despite similar rates of use. Any legislation to legalize marijuana in New Jersey must place racial justice front and center by creating an inclusive cannabis industry, allowing robust expungement of records, and investing in the communities hit hardest by the failed drug war.

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo:

“New Jersey voters have given lawmakers a clear mandate to legalize marijuana in the Garden State – and a clear mandate to implement it placing racial and social justice at the forefront. We urge lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana immediately to prevent more unnecessary arrests for a substance that will soon become legal.

“Lawmakers have the opportunity to begin addressing the harms of the disastrous cannabis drug war by crafting legislation that implements legalization by building a diverse and inclusive cannabis industry, providing strong means to expunge records, and investing in communities that have borne the brunt of prohibition. To truly begin to advance racial justice, and to begin to address the harms of the drug war, we must see investment that allows communities to recover from the drug war, enables people with marijuana records to own businesses in the new industry, and gives people opportunities to build new lives after a marijuana conviction.” 

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Category: Criminal Justice

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