Trenton, NJ — Recently, New Jersey State Senator Nicholas P. Scutari announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. Details of the proposal are pending but the senator envisions an industry that taxes and regulates marijuana like alcohol. A 2013 poll by Lake Research Partners found that 59 percent of New Jersey voters support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana. Recent national polls show similar support.
New Jersey’s current marijuana policies are widely recognized as broken. “Anybody that looks at the facts, knows that the war on marijuana has been a miserable failure,” said Senator Scutari. “We spend billions of dollars on enforcement…this [pointing to the Colorado model]is the direction that the state should go in.”
New Jersey’s current marijuana laws are unfair, unpopular and wasteful. “More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is a waste of law enforcement resources and taxpayer money. And a marijuana conviction can have tragic long-term consequences for individuals. People may lose jobs or be unable to secure employment because of a criminal record. Students who incur a marijuana conviction can lose their student loans. The punishment doesn’t fit the offense and New Jerseyans agree we should remove penalties and instead tax and regulate marijuana.”
Advocates are applauding the senator’s announcement as a common sense measure that is long overdue. “Studies have repeatedly shown that whites and blacks consume marijuana at similar rates, yet people of color overwhelmingly suffer the criminal consequences,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “In New Jersey, African-Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate of close to 3-1 when compared to whites, despite similar usage rates. The time has come to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana for personal use.”
In New Jersey, once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver’s license. Absent a conviction, the collateral consequences of a mere arrest can include immeasurable stigma and humiliation, the sometimes unmanageable financial burden of posting bail and hiring a lawyer, and lost hours at work or school.
A national shift on drug policies is underway. Earlier this year, Attorney General Holder noted that the war on drugs has resulted in “the decimation of certain communities, in particular of communities of color.” The Obama administration also gave states the green light to implement reforms to marijuana policies without fear of federal interference. Twenty states now permit the use of medical marijuana, including New Jersey; fourteen states have some kind of decriminalization law on the books; and voters in two states – Colorado and Washington – recently voted to end prohibition by taxing and regulating marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. By creating a regulatory regime, Colorado and Washington are bringing under the rule of law the production, sale and use of marijuana. Senator Scutari is proposing to do the same.