New Jersey is gearing up for an intense campaign for marijuana legalization. Senate Bill 3195 and Assembly Bill 4872, which would legalize marijuana in New Jersey, were recently introduced by Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). The first hearings on the legislation will happen this month.
The Drug Policy Alliance commends the sponsors for their leadership on this issue and we will be working with them to ensure that the final legislation contains provisions missing from the bill that are essential to establishing a fair and equitable marijuana market and repairing the disproportionate harm that marijuana prohibition has inflicted on communities of color. To highlight the need for these provisions, the Drug Policy Alliance is releasing a short video, made in collaboration with Brave New Films, which explores the current and historical impacts of marijuana prohibition on communities of color. The video features racial and social justice advocates from across New Jersey.
Marijuana laws have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at the same rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. In addition to the severe long-term consequences of a marijuana conviction, marijuana laws have been used to support biased policies like stop and frisk, racial profiling and the deportation of people of color.
As more states legalize marijuana, there is a growing recognition of this disparate impact and the need to address it. In Maryland, a judge recently put that state’s medical marijuana program on hold due to the lack of diversity among those granted licenses for the program. California’s law is the gold standard for fair and equitable marijuana legalization. The law mandates retroactive record expungement and sentence reduction, decriminalization of all marijuana offenses for minors and automatic record destruction at age 18, allocation of 50 million dollars of tax revenue to communities of color annually, low barriers to entry in the industry and no bar to the industry for people with most prior drug convictions.
New Jersey must learn from these other states and ensure that New Jersey’s marijuana legalization legislation contains provisions to address past harms and create a level playing field in this new industry.
As part of our legalization campaign, the Drug Policy Alliance and its partners will work to ensure policies including automatic and retroactive expungement for people previously convicted of marijuana offenses, investment of the revenue generated into those communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and equal opportunity to access the jobs and wealth generated by the marijuana industry are incorporated into any legalization legislation.
Reverend Charles Boyer, Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury, who is featured in the video, has said this about his approach to legalization, “Marijuana legalization must be understood from a moral perspective. As an African American faith leader, I have seen firsthand how the war on drugs has disproportionately devastated my community even though all communities use marijuana at similar rates. A conviction for marijuana possession can have severe long-term consequences and can make it difficult or impossible to secure employment, housing, student loans, or even a driver’s license. Marijuana legalization in New Jersey must address these harms and repair those communities most impacted by our failed marijuana policies.”
Kathy Wright, Executive Director of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus and the mother of a son who has been arrested for marijuana possession, recently told Rolling Stone why she supports marijuana legalization. “Getting wrapped up in the juvenile justice system can completely derail a child’s life. Legalizing and removing the criminalization of marijuana would allow us to put funding into much-needed community services.”
The release of this new video serves to launch the Drug Policy Alliance’s campaign to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. Marijuana prohibition is costly, unfair and ineffective. New Jersey arrests more than 22,000 people a year for marijuana possession at a cost of more than $125 million to New Jersey taxpayers. This failed policy criminalizes otherwise law-abiding people and wastes resources that would be better spent on projects that support our families and communities. We will end this failed policy and ensure that marijuana legalization will be fair and equitable.
Roseanne Scotti is Senior Director of Resident States and State Director of New Jersey for the Drug Policy Alliance.