Nearly 2,000 New Jerseyans Tell Legislature: Legalize Marijuana through Legislation This Session

Days after plan announced to push ballot question to legalize marijuana, nearly 2,000 signers from NJ’s 21 counties demanded legislation that centers racial and social justice

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
November 21, 2019 4:15 pm

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New Jerseyans en masse called on New Jersey’s legislative leadership to legalize marijuana through legislation before the end of this session via a sign-on letter sent by the ACLU of New Jersey. Legislative leadership, Gov. Murphy, and all members of the General Assembly received the sign-on letter just days after Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced intentions to push a ballot measure forcing the voters to decide on a constitutional amendment rather than going through the legislative process.

The letter (PDF) garnered almost 2,000 signatures, including those from individuals from all 21 New Jersey counties who combined their voices to urge lawmakers to pass legalization that prioritizes racial and social justice and ends the state’s 30,000-plus marijuana arrests annually.

“The overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans supports cannabis legalization, and today scores of concerned residents joined together to let lawmakers know that we need to legalize, tax, and regulate adult-use marijuana now, through legislation,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “Every moment without cannabis legalization means almost 100 marijuana arrests per day, with communities of color disproportionately bearing that brunt of enforcement. Our state needs legalization in a way that secures racial and social justice, and a ballot measure cannot give that assurance.”

The letter sent the message that the Garden State cannot wait until 2021 to legalize marijuana and that New Jerseyans should not be forced to vote on a broad constitutional amendment with no details about implementation, especially regarding racial and social justice. With a constitutional amendment, the Legislature would still have to pass follow-up legislation to map out details of what legalization would look like in practice.

“For far too long, the prohibition of cannabis has devastated communities across New Jersey. In that time, the prohibition of cannabis has intensified racial disparities in the criminal justice system and arrests have skyrocketed,” the sign-on letter opened. “In legalizing through legislation, New Jersey would create a regulatory framework to protect the public health and safety of communities, bolster economic opportunity, and establish critical racial and social justice provisions.”

Last week, the ACLU-NJ issued a data brief showing a dramatic uptick in marijuana-related arrests on top of severe racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Between 2013 and 2017, arrests grew from 27,923 arrests to 37,623 arrests, representing a 35 percent increase. In New Jersey, Black people are arrested at a rate three times higher than white people, despite similar usage.

“Someone is arrested for marijuana every 14 minutes in our state, and disproportionately, those arrested are Black and brown,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo. “If we fail to call for an up-or-down vote on legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use, we are prolonging the injustice of making nearly 100 arrests per day for the next two years. New Jersey cannot wait any longer for legalization, and that’s the message New Jersey has sent with this letter to legislators.”

Read the sign-on letter:

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