Religious groups hold forum to discuss marijuana legalization

Rev. William Henry opposes marijuana legalization. He says government rarely does with the proceeds what it says it will do.

“And you may say, ‘why would children be smoking marijuana?’ Well, if their parents have it, it’s in their household,” said Henry, a pastor at Everlasting Life Ministries.

But, Rev. Charles Boyer is an outspoken advocate for legalization. Boyer recalls how a decades-old campaign has led to the disproportionate marijuana arrests, prosecutions, convictions and incarcerations of blacks and browns. He quoted Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

“There are a total of 100,000 marijuana smokers in the United States, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and others,” Boyer said, quoting Anslinger testimony from 1937.

“You know what? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. That’s alarming,” said director of the Paterson Police Department Jerry Speziale.

Boyer is a familiar face in the halls of New Jersey lawmaking and the pastor of Bethel AME in Woodbury. He’s encouraged his father, Rev. Allan Boyer, the longtime pastor of First Bethel AME in Paterson, to take a second, third look at legalization. It’s a hard sell for the father who’s seen lives falling prey to the opioid crisis right outside his church. But, on Monday night, the elder Boyer and the Drug Policy Alliance held a forum on the justice side of legalization.

“You can’t make marijuana legal today, and it was illegal yesterday and all the people still have it on their records are still sitting in prison are still criminalized,” said Rev. Charles Boyer. “And now today a whole bunch of young, white men come in and are made the heroes and they’re the next Twitter and Facebook level folks.”

“There’s a lot of momentum, not just in New Jersey but around the country, for marijuana legalization and a lot of it is driven by the desire to raise tax money and to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s the only thing that we do, it is a failure,” said Roseanne Scotti, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

The state estimates legalization would add $300 million a year to its budget. Paterson’s corporation counsel said cities deserve a share, which they’ve never gotten from alcohol.

“But it cannot be what we see with alcohol licenses. We should focus the revenue that’s going to be derived to benefit the places that are going to have to absorb all the effects of what is going to happen with marijuana decriminalization,” said Domenick Stampone, corporation counsel for the city of Paterson.

The Cannabis Cultural Association said it formed because it sensed blacks and browns were being excluded from consideration for marijuana businesses.

“We would ask questions like, ‘how do we get more people who look like us into the room?’ and they would not provide us with an answer,” said Jake Plowden, co-founder of the Cannabis Cultural Association.

What about driving under the influence of marijuana when THC stays in someone’s system for 30 days, but a day after smoking marijuana the smoker is not high?

“How do we test those that have a CDL license? How do we ensure that our children are going to be safe on the school bus now when we do this?” asked Lynda Gallashaw, president of the Passaic County Civic League.

“If you get stopped by a drug recognition expert, they may deem you to be under the influence,” said Speziale.

Lawmakers say they’re still writing and rewriting legalization bills and urged the public to get involved.

The senior pastor Boyer described the forum as informative and says he hopes and prays that legalization in New Jersey will take the sting out of the illegal drug trade and the impact he sees right here outside his church.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight