ArcView Market Research, a firm that pairs investors with marijuana-related businesses, recently released a report that predicted 18 U.S. states will have recreational marijuana in the next five years. New Jersey was included and was expected to have “adult use legislation” somewhere between 2017 and 2020. Yet NJ was excluded from the projections in the report by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which claimed only 12 states in the next few years legalize marijuana. MPP, unlike ArcView Market Research, does not expect legalization to take place in NJ, and will therefore invest in projects elsewhere.
As marijuana activists wait to see which state will legalize next, it is no surprise NJ is excluded from being a possibility. The report by ArcView Market Research reasonably assumed NJ will likely legalize marijuana after the 2016 elections, when Governor Chris Christie will leave office. The Republican Governor has notoriously fought against marijuana legalization and has stalled the medical marijuana program here since taking office in 2010. Yet he is currently in an extremely vulnerable position due to the state’s slow economic recovery, causing state approval rates of him to be at an all-time low. Moreover he is now expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 Republican Presidential ticket. NJ marijuana activists have taken full responsibility to discredit this anti-cannabis-monger for the presidential race, in order to prevent him from harming the national marijuana movement. A small group of NJ cannabis activists have therefore launched a campaign of direct action protests and civil disobedience as a way to draw attention to Christie’s dysfunctional medical marijuana programs and his shortcomings as a political leader.
Although sporadic demonstrations have been held in the last decade, the marijuana forces in NJ didn’t solidify a Movement until 2014. In that year, NJ Weedman, the face of the movement in NJ, led 150 demonstrators to the State House in Trenton on April 20, where we smoked in civil disobedience, without any arrests being made. The 4-20 demonstration, known as “Stoner Day: Confront Christie’s Cannabis Policies,” revealed that Christie feared making massive arrests, prompting us to consider massive civil disobedience as a viable option.
The next step in the movement was taken by, not a radical activist, but by Jennie Stormes, a mother who sought a better medical marijuana program for her son Jaxs, who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravert Syndrome. Unable to persuade Christie through numerous negotiations, she launched the weekly medical marijuana protests outside the Trenton State House Building, known as “Patients Speak Up: NJ Medical Marijuana Program is Failing.” For 20 Thursday’s in a row, over a dozen person’s attended nearly every weekly protest from July 10-November 20. The weekly members consisted of parents with sick children, regular medical patients, activists, and just plain pot-heads. It didn’t take long for some of us to begin smoking across the street in non-massive civil disobedience, a.k.a., the “Trenton Truth Force (“Truth” being a translation of Gandhi’s “Satyagraha”), but due to a positive relationship with police, no one was ever arrested. The weekly protests gained significant publicity, including a personal visit of support by Senator Cory Booker. We were commonly graced by the presence of Gov. Christie as well, who would lend a sympathetic ear, but then entered his office without any serious consideration of changing the current programs. Nevertheless we will continue our weekly demonstrations from April-November, 2015.
During the weekly protests, I organized another massive demonstration for October 18, 2014, the “NJ Cannabis Conference.” In an attempt to build a large coalition, I received 16 sponsors for the event, ranging from marijuana groups such as the Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey (CMMNJ) and East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC), to non-marijuana groups like the Green Party of NJ and Decarcerate the Garden State. This resulted in the largest marijuana demonstration in the state’s history, with 250 demonstrators marching on the State House in Trenton. Led by co-host NJ Weedman, the crowd smoked at 4:20 P.M. as cops stood by, once again making no arrests. This marked Jennie’s last NJ demonstration, however, since she was forced to move to Colorado in order to receive proper medical marijuana care for her son Jax.
A similar massive demonstration is being coordinated for March 21, 2015, called “NJ Spring Smoke-Out,” only this time we received the additional sponsorship from Delaware NORML and the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware, after several of us NJ activists began traveling there to partake in their events. Following this protest will be another 4-20 demonstration in Trenton. On May 2, for the Global Marijuana March, NJ Weedman, Vanessa Maria of ECCC, Mike Murray of Delaware NORML and I will organize the “Poor People’s Parade for Pot” in Camden, NJ. NJ has a rare history of participating in the Global Marijuana March, but this is a trend we hope to eliminate beginning this year.
NJ will most likely not legalize marijuana until after the 2016 elections, but it can be certain that the candidates for governor will know what to expect from marijuana activists if the laws remain unchanged. We will continue to apply pressure through nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. Lighting up joints in public is no less honorable than the youth in the 1960s who set their draft cards afire to protest the war in Vietnam. NJ may not be the next state to legalize marijuana, but it will certainly be a strong competitor in gaining national publicity through massive civil disobedience.