Current law in New Jersey dictates that being found in possession of even a minuscule amount of cannabis for personal use can result in a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. To enforce and prosecute such minor, non-violent charges, the state spent $127 million last year. A newly unified league of pro-legalization activists in the Garden State recently announced plans to end this injustice as soon as possible.
The coalition, known as the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR), recently launched planning into action during a press conference in Newark. The initiative boasts many high-profile leaders who are also members of such organizations as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the NAACP State Conference of New Jersey and the ACLU-New Jersey. According to NJUMR, marijuana possession arrests in New Jersey have gotten so out of hand that on average, someone is arrested for marijuana possession every 22 minutes.
During the coalition press conference, Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU explained,
“It is time to take marijuana out of our parks, and off of our street corners, and put it behind the counter. It is time to stop turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.”
The group stands on the platform that legalization, regulation and taxation would do much more than generate an estimated $100 million in tax revenue to the state. NJUMR also points out that legalizing marijuana possession would reduce the workloads for police departments and prosecutors. This would significantly reduce the amount of tax dollars spent on non-violent marijuana arrests, and free up officers’ time to work on more important cases.
President of the N.J Municipal Prosecutors Association, Jon-Henry Barr, is one NJUMR’s backers. He shared his personal experience and opinion on the matter while speaking at the press conference in Newark,
“As a municipal prosecutor, I have had to waste countless taxpayer dollars and hours of police officers’ time to prosecute New Jerseyeans.”
“The savings that will be realized will dwarf any drawbacks.”
Another point brought up by the group examined the racial disparity among marijuana arrests in the Garden State, citing the study by the ACLU that determined that black people are 3.7 times more likely, on average, to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
Richard Smith, president of NAACP New Jersey stated,
“The war on marijuana has failed, and this failure (has) had a devastating impact on black families. We will work to ensure that a portion of the revenue generated (by the legalization of marijuana)…will be reinvested into our communities that have been most impacted by the enforcement.”
While the NJUMR aims to help draft the most ideal legislation for the state, there is no bill written yet. The plan is to examine how legalization unfolds in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska before putting pen to paper so that they can draft legislation with the big-picture in mind. The group did report that legalization would be restricted to adults aged 21 years and older, and that driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.
In the meantime, the group plans to spread the word and share education with New Jersey residents so that when the time comes, people can cast a vote based on knowledge rather than propaganda.
The New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform may have a difficult task ahead because Gov. Chris Christie has made it clear on many occasions that he will not support legalization. It may not be up to him, however, if a voter backed initiative is placed on an election day ballot.
photo credit: Jessica Mazzola