NJ Legalization Senate Hearing (11-16-15)

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ACLU Arrests Chart. Kyle Moore and NJ Weedman visible beside it. 

Bruce Barcott, author of the 2015 Times-published book “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America,” labeled the year 2014 as the “tipping point” for the American cannabis movement: “for the first time ever, a majority of Americans lived in states with some form of marijuana legality.” (6) Four states and DC were legalized, 200 shops were running in Colorado and 89 in Washington State.  The “turning point,” however, came in 2013, when 58 percent of Americans favored legalization, up from 48 percent only the year before. (17)  All this “tipping” and “turning” meant that the government was now against the majority of country.

The Cannabis Movement in NJ reached a new point on November 16, 2015.  For the first time ever in NJ, the state Senate committee held a hearing on legal and recreational cannabis.The committee hearing is as historically important as was the first NJ committee hearing on medical marijuana on June 8, 2006.  The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was introduced by none other than Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union).  The bill was discussed at a Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee hearing on June 8, but was not voted on.  Nevertheless, this became the first big battle of the state. The bill was created by NJ-DPA, and it would take five-and-a-half years to get it passed. If the bill had passed then, NJ would have been the 12th state to legalize medically, but the state wouldn’t pass until four years later, when it become the 14th state to do so.  Ken Wolski of CMMNJ spoke out for medical patients at both hearings.

The legalization hearing received more support than the medical hearing nearly a decade ago. Speakers focusing on the civil rights aspect included the ACLU, NAACP and the Latino Action Network. “Black individuals in New Jersey are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana as whites, despite similar usage rates,” said Richard Smith, president of the NAACP-NJ State Conference . “This is a civil rights issue.”  ACLU Executive Director Udi Ofer referenced Hunterdon County, where 3 percent of the county’s population is black, yet only 350 white people were arrested for pot possession compared to 1,675 black people.  In 2013,  24,765 people were arrested in the state for pot – “the state’s highest number in 20 years, nearly doubling the amount in 1993 when the population was 12 percent less.”

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Richard Smith, President of NAACP NJ State Conference. Behind him, Kyle Moore and NJ Weedman.

Others focusing on the arrest record shot glances toward Gov. Christie.  Chris Goldstein of Philly NORML was reported saying: “Christie is the most vocal marijuana prohibitionist in America right now. … His rhetoric obviously hasn’t been lost on the police captains of New Jersey.” Retired State Police Narcotics Detective Lt. Dominck Bucci looked over decades of marijuana busts and stated at the Senate hearing: “I can’t help thinking I let people down.”  Bucci, who works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), also said: “I’ve spent most of my career fighting the failed war on drugs, and I have seen the message that enforcement of our harsh marijuana law sends: if we catch you experimenting, we will do everything we can to ruin your future.”

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Rally outside Senate Hearing. 

The Legalization Senate Hearing at least put NJ on the map as a potential legalization state in the near-future.  The Village Voice title on November 16, read: “New Jersey Leads New York In The ‘Race’ To Legalize Recreational Marijuana.”  This isn’t bad considering how far behind NJ was from most states earlier this year.  Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) earlier this year predicted 12 states would legalize weed in next few years, excluding NJ from the list. Although NJ was one of the 18 states predicted to legalize by 2020, according to a report earlier this year by ArcView Market Research.

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Die-In outside Senate Hearing.

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