Marijuana is one step closer to being legal in New Jersey, but advocates cannot relax just yet.
On Nov. 26, New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly committees passed a bill that would legalize marijuana for people over 21 years old. A full vote is scheduled for next month.
The original bill, which was introduced by Democratic State Senator Nicholas Scutari, sought to alleviate racial inequalities in the criminal justice system by legalizing the drug for which a disproportionate number of black people to prison are sent to prison each year.
“Lives have been ruined by marijuana arrests of our young people and in some cases, lives were lost during arrests,” wrote Dominick “Nick” Bucci, a retired New Jersey State Trooper, in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “The current legislation is addressing the concerns of marijuana legalization like no other state has done before.”
Proponents of legalization are proud of the vote on Monday but expressed concern that the racial justice goals were not being met.
“This pivotal moment determines whether New Jersey will become a model for what social and racial justice in legalization can look like, or whether we’ll be another object lesson in roadblocks that prevented us from moving beyond the inequities of the drug war,” American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) Executive Director Amol Sinha wrote in a statement. “New Jersey is counting on its leaders in Trenton to lift up the communities that have lost the most from unequal marijuana enforcement.”
ACLU-NJ praised the current bill for establishing a expungement process to erase marijuana records and creating opportunities for people with prior convictions to participate in the new cannabis industry.
But advocates expressed consternation about the bill’s omission of critical racial and social justice measures, such as Home Grow and justice reinvestment.
“The current bills offer some money to defray the cost of expungements, but do not contain any plans for reinvestment in communities harmed by the drug war, which would go toward education, re-entry services, and job training,” New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR), a marijuana legalization advocacy coalition, wrote in a statement. “The bills have no provisions to allow people to grow small amounts of marijuana in their homes for personal use.”
Bucci agreed with these recommendations and added that New Jersey should give smaller operators an easier chance to enter the market and lower the tax rate
“Let’s hope it doesn't take another year to reach our goal,” Bucci said.
Economically, the state stands to generate about $300 million in tax revenue through the recreational marijuana program. New Jersey currently spends $127 million each year on marijuana possession enforcement costs, including marijuana possession arrests, which constitute the majority of drug possession arrests.
The passage by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee is the first legislative vote on legalization in the state’s history.