The future is bright for New Jersey as lawmakers start the conversation about the possibility of legal cannabis in the state after Chris Christie’s forthcoming departure from the governor’s mansion.
As Christie prepares to hit the road as mandated by term laws, should the exit be open, supporters of legal cannabis in The Garden State are preparing for a brighter future. Rutgers Grad and soon-to-be local legend State Senator Nicholas Scutari is leading the effort with his bill filed this week.
Earlier this month Christie called the Democratic backers of the movement leading to this effort crazy liberals and said the whole concept of pot being OK was “baloney.”
But it’s Christie vs. The World on this one, as soon as he loses the power of the pen a major grassroots effort looks to be in strong position led by New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR). The coalition has built an impressive list of supporters and released a statement coinciding with the bill hitting the statehouse.
JH Barr serves as municipal prosecutor in Clark and is a former president and current secretary of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association.
“As a prosecutor for more than 16 years, I have seen what the war on marijuana looks like up close: wasted resources and wasted potential,” he said in the statement. “Every time someone in my town court gets arrested and taken into custody for marijuana possession, I see a lost opportunity to confront real public safety threats because law enforcement is occupied with punishing people needlessly. It’s time to legalize marijuana for adults in New Jersey.”
Though the state is poised to bring in $300 million through regulations, backers are hoping legalization is the solution to Jersey’s serious racial disparity issues in policing. The state has one of the highest racial disparities rates in the country when it comes to pot arrests. An ACLU report released in 2013 noted Black individuals in New Jersey were arrested at a rate about three times higher than the rate of arrests for white individuals for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates. Someone is arrested every 22 minutes in New Jersey on average for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU. The report’s findings have been at the root of the issue for legalization supporters since NJUMR was founded, also in 2013.
We reached out to some of Jersey’s longtime cannabis activists and policy followers to get their take on the situation. Thrilled is an understatement when describing their reactions to the future. As Victor Pinho who spent eight years working to help legalize and implement the state’s medical program put it, “Christie was always public enemy number one.”
The state’s NORML chapter has been one of the most active on the issue long term and signed on as a supporter of the NJUMR effort. We reached out to Executive Director Evan Nison to get his take on the legalization push.
Right now it seems very likely the next governor of New Jersey will support legalization,” said Nison, who also serves on NORML’s national board. “At this point, it is about using this issue to drive supporters to the polls, since it will be a midterm election. I believe that New Jersey will pass a legalization bill into law soon after the next governor is sworn in next year.”
South of the shore, Washington’s pot politicos are also keeping a close eye on things and have high hopes for the election.
“Every single Democratic candidate for governor, a number of Republican candidates, and 60 percent of New Jersey residents support legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis in the Garden State,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “It’s only a question of when, not if, in regards to legalization in New Jersey. We applaud the bill’s sponsors for getting the ball rolling by introducing this fiscally and socially responsible legislation that would spell the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the state.”
Altieri also noted NORML will strongly advocate for improvements to the current draft, including the addition of home cultivation, but believes this bill represents a strong first step in the right direction and “indicates that there is a bright future ahead once rabid drug warrior Chris Christie is no longer in the governor’s office.”
The Marijuana Policy Project’s Legislative Counsel Kate M. Bell told Cannabis Now they liked the bill but,”of course, we know that passage will likely have to wait until the state has a governor willing to look at the scientific evidence about cannabis and the success of states like Colorado in regulating it, rather than repeating disproven propaganda from the ‘reefer madness’ era.”
Regardless of the countdown clock to January, they’re glad to see things are progressing with Bell saying, “starting a conversation in the legislature about how best to implement a taxation and regulation system will help prepare New Jersey for January of 2018. While the bill doesn’t include all the provisions that MPP would like to see — in particular home cultivation — it appears to be a great start toward ending the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws and moving a billion-dollar market out of the hands of criminal enterprises and into a legal, regulated businesses.
She closed in saying that the proposal would also help patients in New Jersey by eliminating the tax on their medicine and driving down the high cost of medical marijuana in the state.
TELL US, do you support cannabis legalization your state? What are you doing to stay active?