Marijuana Advocates Explain Why Legalization is the Only Option for Social and Racial Justice

NJUMR steering committee members, along with dozens of other advocates, testified before Assembly about legalization’s benefits

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 5, 2018 10:45 am

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At the first Assembly hearing on the subject of legalizing marijuana for adults, three steering committee members of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform testified that only legalization—and legalization done right—can advance social and racial justice. Dozens of other advocates, including endorsers of NJUMR’s campaign, appeared before the Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee.

“Marijuana legalization is an urgent matter of civil rights, and it’s our duty to end the injustices that have come with prohibition,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “For safety and for justice, legalization is the only option we can accept in good conscience. Decriminalization will not end arrests or selective enforcement, and it will leave responsibility for regulation and testing not with scientists and experts, but to the whims of the underground market.”

The three NJUMR advocates – ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha, NAACP New Jersey State Conference Political Director R. Todd Edwards, and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation founder and President Dr. David Nathan – discussed the benefits of legalization from public health, civil rights, racial justice, and economic perspectives.

NJUMR, a coalition of leaders and organizations in the New Jersey law enforcement, civil rights, and medical communities, formed in 2015 to advocate for marijuana legalization to advance social justice and public health.

Despite similar usage rates, Black New Jerseyans are arrested at a rate three times higher than that of white New Jerseyans. The ACLU-NJ released a report in 2017 about the vast racial disparities in New Jersey’s marijuana arrests. According to the latest data available, New Jersey is making more arrests than ever before: nearly 25,000 in 2015.

“The New Jersey Legislature has an opportunity to concretely improve the lives of communities of color by ending the war on marijuana, which has largely amounted to a war on people of color. The people of New Jersey are begging them to seize that opportunity,” said R. Todd Edwards, political action director of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “The disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color is one of the major civil rights battles of our era, and ending prohibition of marijuana can bring us closer to achieving real racial justice in the criminal justice system.”

In 2016, NJUMR and New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report finding that New Jersey could generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in a legalized marketplace.

“As a father and as a physician, my conscience compels me to advocate for marijuana legalization,” said Dr. David Nathan, founder and president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. “Through decades of treating patients who have suffered far more from enforcement of marijuana laws than from marijuana itself, I have seen up close the waste of the fight against marijuana, which more closely resembles legal recreational drugs than illegal ones.”

In June 2017, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a similar hearing on marijuana legalization.

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