There was a hearing yesterday in the New Jersey State Legislature for SB (Senate Bill) 3195, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older. This Bill is sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union). While we are generally supportive of bills such as this, and have reported on New Jersey cannabis policy before, we feel there are a few pitfalls with this one.
Additionally, The Drug Policy Alliance and other civil rights and racial justice organizations have expressed concern over Senator Scutari’s proposed legislation. While they commend Senator Scutari for his leadership on marijuana reform, they are disappointed that the legislation introduced does not include essential components to create a fair and equitable marijuana market in New Jersey.
“Marijuana legalization in New Jersey must be fair and equitable and must include policies to repair past harms and encourage participation in the industry,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Marijuana laws in New Jersey have disproportionately harmed communities of color. African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates. Legislation to legalize marijuana in our state must include policies to right these wrongs.”
Meagan Glaser is the Deputy State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance in New Jersey. She was present at the hearing and shared that the social justice amendments suggested at the hearing yesterday included the following:
- Protections for those who apply for a license or employment in the industry who have prior arrests and/or convictions
- Access to the industry for individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds
- Requirement that the state shall actively seek to achieve a diverse industry
- Provisions intended to repair communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition, including expungement and investment of revenue generated into communities
- Civil penalties for marijuana activities that occur outside the new legal system to avoid the continuation of a criminal system that disproportionately harms communities of color
Glaser added, “The committee members and Chairman (who is also the sponsor of the legalization bill) were receptive to amendments. The Drug Policy Alliance and the New Solutions Campaign (a broad coalition of faith leaders, civil rights and racial justice advocates advocating for fair and equitable marijuana reform in New Jersey) are looking forward to working with Senator Scutari and other members of the legislatue to make sure this legislation benefits all New Jerseyans.”
As reported by nj.com, this is what SB 3195 would do currently:
- -Decriminalize marijuana possession of up to 50 grams “immediately” and allow people who have been arrested for pot possession to expunge their records
- Establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement in the state Attorney General’s Office which would create the rules used to govern the legal market of growers and sellers
- Allow people to possess up to one ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of edible products infused with cannabis, 72 ounces in liquid form and seven grams of marijuana “concentrate
- impose a sales tax on recreational sales beginning at 7 percent in the first year, climbing to 10 percent in the second year and jumping five percent more each year until it reaches 25 percent. Taxes on medical marijuana would be abolished
- Give the five existing medical marijuana dispensary nonprofit groups first crack at selling recreational pot
Advocates for legalized marijuana have reason to be frustrated that the bill does not address the unfairness of the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws. According to a study published by New Jersey’s ACLU, blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates but blacks are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for doing so. In fact, this study determined that black residents were 3 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. The ACLU estimated New Jersey police agencies spend about $143 million per year to enforce the state’s marijuana laws, and that 9 of 10 arrests targeted marijuana users rather than dealers.
It’s essential to add certain provisions to the legislation to ensure that SB 3195 creates a fair and equitable marijuana market and repairs the harms that have disparately impacted communities of color in New Jersey.