Bipartisan Coalition Calls for Legalizing Marijuana

NJ Spotlight News | February 18, 2015 | Health Care, Politics
NJ United for Marijuana Reform believes legalizing marijuana will end court backlogs and produce revenue for the state.

By Brenda Flanagan

“It is time to end prohibition — again,” said NJ NAACP President Richard Smith.

And New Jersey should help lead the way, says a new, bipartisan coalition called New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) that today launched a PR campaign to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older, and reap giant revenues from taxing regulated sales — an estimated $100 million.

“It is time for a new common-sense approach. It is time to take marijuana out of our parks and out of of our street corners and into licensed stores for adults,” said Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Udi Ofer.

“The tide is turning on this. The legalization of marijuana is going to be here in our lifetime,” said William Caruso, managing director of Archer Public Affairs.

The group will urge New Jerseyans to join the four other states and Washington, D.C. that have already legalized recreational marijuana use. They’ll argue the decades-long war on weed just overburdens cops and backlogs court dockets.

“It is plainly obvious that we need to end this failed system of prohibition so that police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges can be focusing their time on serious crimes,” said Jon-Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors’ Association.

The coalition says New Jersey logs 21,000 marijuana arrests a year, and African-Americans are three times more likely to get arrested for possession than whites — despite similar usage rates. The NAACP joined the cause.

“To educate New Jerseyans about how the status quo has failed our communities — especially our black communities,” Smith said.

Smith says a court conviction can devastate a young person’s future.

“A criminal record, job discrimination and threatened loss of public housing and student loans,” he said.

But the coalition faces a major obstacle: Gov. Chris Christie’s vowed never to approve legalizing recreational marijuana use.

“I am not going to be the governor who’s gonna tell our children and our young adults that marijuana use is OK — because it’s not. So I don’t care about the tax money that may come from it and I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable. It’s not inevitable here. I’m not gonna permit it — never, as long as I’m governor,” he said.

“There is the potential for harm to young people if they use marijuana,” said Dr. David Nathan.

But psychiatrist Dr. Nathan says 80 percent of high school seniors report it’s very easy to obtain. He says regulate it, make it legal for adults, make it boring.

“Kind of along the lines of when your mother is now on Facebook, you don’t want to be on Facebook any more. So when it becomes legal for adults and it becomes no big deal any more for adults, we stop hearing the snickering about it in the press, I think that’s gonna have an effect on young people,” Nathan said.

So the MO here is work to get public approval, make it a hot topic with New Jersey voters, light a fire under New Jersey politicians.