The American Civil Liberties Union just became an unlikely ally in the fight to legalize marijuana use in New Jersey. The ACLU recently released a new report blasting the Garden State for unfair treatment and arrest of those using marijuana products in the state. Citing law enforcement’s now eight decades of attempting to “arrest marijuana uses out of existence”, the report showcases the aggressive and often racially biased punishments doled out to marijuana users in New Jersey.
The ACLU released in-depth analysis of the issue of overly aggressive arrest practices when it comes to marijuana use. Not only are arrests significantly on the rise, they are becoming more racially charged and disparate than ever. What’s going on in the Garden State, and what can and should be done to halt the increasingly aggressive stance taken by law enforcement? The ACLU findings provide some clues:
A record number of arrests: In 2013, law enforcement in New Jersey made over 24,000 marijuana possession arrests, up by 26% since the year 2000. According to the ACLU, an individual is arrested for marijuana possession in the state every 22 minutes. Beach areas Cape May and Seaside Park lead the state in the number of arrests per capita.
Racial inequities at an all-time high: The way an individual is treated by officers and the court varies in New Jersey based on race. According to the ACLU, an African American was three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than a white user, even though both races use marijuana at similar rates. In some areas, like Point Pleasant Beach, a Black individual is a whopping 31% more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person. 88% of arrests are of users, not dealers; just regular New Jersey citizens found in the possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Wasted resources: The state spends more than $143 million per year pursuing marijuana users; the state spent over a billion dollars in the last decade to arrest, prosecute and jail offenders. This money could be better spent on everything from education to drug treatment or community outreach, but instead goes towards prosecuting and jailing those found in possession of marijuana.
Penalties for Marijuana Possession in New Jersey
The aggressive arrest and prosecution of those possessing even small amounts of marijuana is an issue as well. Jail, a criminal record and a suspended driver’s license are just the beginning; every aspect of life is impacted by those who are convicted of possession. It can be more difficult to obtain a job and a conviction could prevent an individual from securing a place to live, going to college or even volunteering at a child’s school. The ACLU report highlights the devastating impact these aggressive laws and penalties has on the lives of New Jersey’s citizens.
A Better Solution for New Jersey
Citing the harsh penalties and racial inequalities when it comes to both arrests and consequences, the ACLU, along with local civil rights leaders and physicians support the growing public call to legalize marijuana in the Garden State. Legalization will drastically reduce the number of arrests and allow law enforcement to focus time, energy and resources on more meaningful causes. Recent polling says that almost 60% of New Jersey residents support the legalization of marijuana and feel that the ability to tax and regulate the drug would bring a much-needed change to the state.
The ACLU calls for New Jersey to halt their racially biased approach to marijuana arrest and prosecution. In addition, they call for the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana in the state. The ACLU also calls for police departments to properly track Latinx arrest data; there is currently no arrest data to track the disparity of arrests in the Hispanic community. Finally, the New Jersey Attorney General is asked to investigate the extreme racial disparity in the arrests of the past decade and to use this data to improve the criminal justice system in the state.
This post was originally published on June 19, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.