Newark Pastor Helps NJ See the Light on Prohibition

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November 20, 2013 - By Brian Rabadeau

Opposition to the drug war is cut from many cloths. Newark pastor M. William Howard Jr. took to New Jersey’s The Star Ledger to condemn what he viewed as an immoral and illogical drug policy. The op-ed powerfully calls for an end to marijuana prohibition and has started to receive attention from social networking sites.

Rev. Howard called for New Jersey state legislature to decriminalize marijuana, citing the war on drugs as an utter failure. “The war on drugs expends billions of federal and state dollars per year and, despite such enormous economic costs, completely fails to fulfill any of its major objectives,” Rev. Howard wrote. The waste of money for marijuana possession in New Jersey alone, Rev. Howard stated, charged taxpayers more than $125 million in 2010.

The opinion piece illustrated many different flaws with marijuana prohibition. One main point referred to marijuana arrests that discriminated against communities of color. Rev. Howard highlights that more than 22,000 New Jersey citizens were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010. While marijuana is used equally by people of all races, blacks in New Jersey are around three times more probable to be detained for marijuana possession than whites, a statistic reiterated in the piece.

The reverend invoked the adverse effect a marijuana arrest can have on one’s criminal record. An individual convicted of marijuana possession is impeded in receiving student loans, securing public housing, or finding a job. “Even absent a conviction, the consequences of a mere arrest include humiliation, the sometimes unmanageable financial burden of posting bail and hiring a lawyer, and lost hours at work or school,” Rev. Howard said.

Public support in New Jersey for marijuana reform is overwhelming, Rev. Howard added. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners earlier this summer found that 61 percent of voters were in favor of marijuana decriminalization and 59 percent supported regulating and legalizing marijuana. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll taken in 2011 found similar results, with 58 percent of New Jerseyans supporting more lenient policies on marijuana possession while 56 percent believed penalties for possession should be eliminated. These numbers are extremely crucial since New Jersey legislature is considering Senate Bill 1977, a bill if passed and signed into law would decriminalize marijuana in the Garden State.

Rev. Howard’s plea to fellow New Jerseyans exemplifies what drug policy advocates around the country agree on. Drug prohibition leads to wasteful spending, inhumane practices, life ruining consequences, and ultimately does not reach its goal of preventing drug use. Marijuana reform should come into discussion, as its possession remains the leading cause of arrest in the county. Hopefully state legislators will read Rev. Howard’s proposal and come to see the light.

Brian Rabadeau is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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