Winning Drug Free Zone Reform in New Jersey

One of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey's greatest victories to date is passing first-in-the-nation drug-free zone reform legislation. On January 12th, 2010, Governor Jon S. Corzine signed the bill (A2762/S1866), which returned discretion to judges to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses. The passage of this legislation was the culmination of five years of extraordinary advocacy by Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, our coalition partners in the New Solutions Campaign, our allies and supporters.

Over the last twenty years, New Jersey's prison population has grown at an unprecedented rate. The engine driving this growth has been the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. Since the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986, which ushered in a regime of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, the proportion of the prison population incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses has risen from 11 percent to 29 percent-an almost three-fold increase. One of the most unfair and ineffective of these laws was the infamous drug-free zone law. This ineffective and unfair use of mass incarceration has had huge human and economic costs.

Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey created the New Solutions Campaign to advocate for Assembly Bill No. 2762 and Senate Bill No. 1866. The Campaign was kicked off with the release of a report issued by Drug Policy Alliance that calculates the billions of dollars in hidden costs tied to New Jersey's out-of-control prison growth. We released the report at a May 2008 press conference featuring Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan.

Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, our coalition partners, allies and supporters fought hard to get these critically important pieces of legislation passed. We first got A2762 passed by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in May 2008 followed by passage in the full Assembly the very next month. However, the companion legislation, S1866, stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We then went to the city councils in Camden, Jersey City and Newark to ask them to pass resolutions in support of A2762 / S1866, urging the legislature to act without further delay. All three councils acted quickly and passed resolutions in October and November of 2009. In December 2009, Drug Policy Alliance also released a letter, signed by eight former New Jersey Attorneys General, in support of drug free zone reform.

Finally, on December 10, 2009, the New Jersey State Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1866. On January 12, 2010, Governor Jon S. Corzine signed this important legislation. The New Solutions Campaign continues working for criminal sentencing reform and stronger families and communities.