Dear John Wisniewski,
I am writing to you out of concern of your stance on cannabis in relation to your position as the NJ State Chair of the Bernie Sanders for President Campaign. I am a registered Democrat in the state of NJ and I am completely committed to the Bernie Sanders campaign, even collecting signatures statewide, but I am collecting signatures mainly from cannabis consumers and legalization supporters so as to show the undeniable voting bloc of this Movement. For this reason I am pointing out the opposing views you and Sanders have on cannabis legalization and the War on Drugs. Your opposition to legalization, as noted during NJ’s first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on cannabis legalization in November 2015, could be viewed as hypocritical among the millions of cannabis consumers in support of Sanders. Below, I will list why this can viewed as hypocritical, while also listing reasons why cannabis legalization will be profitable.
Cannabis became a Schedule 1 Drug from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classified drugs into five Schedules: Schedule I Drugs were classified as having no medical value, while Schedule V remained the least harmful classification. Marijuana was placed as a Schedule 1 Drug. Obviously marijuana was mis-scheduled because it is known to have numerous medical benefits. Cannabis was placed as a Schedule 1 Drug because of President Nixon’s insistence, and was said to remain there until the Shaffer Commission could correctly schedule the plant. In 1972, the Shaffer Commission released its comprehensive report that the War on Drugs was a failure, and that cannabis should not be a Schedule 1 Drug and should in fact be Decriminalized. But Nixon completely ignored this Commission and kept marijuana a Schedule 1 Drug, along with heroin. Cannabis is no doubt safer than Schedule II Drugs, like Opium, which is used to make heroin and morphine, as well as Meth. In short, Cannabis was wrongly Scheduled in the first place, and remained classified as a Schedule I Drug due to political reasons only.
As a young Millennial I fully support the legalization of cannabis, as does the majority of my generation, and the nation as a whole for that matter (58 percent of the nation supported cannabis legalization by 2013). As of now, four states and D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis, while at least 23 states passed cannabis reforms of some kind. The year 2016 is expected to be the most important year for cannabis legalization, with seven state legalization bills filed already. Cannabis consumers have come out in nearly full support of Sanders since his proposal to federally Deschedule the plant. Hillary Clinton has not been so fortunate in receiving cannabis votes, due to her failed, pitiful attempt to gain cannabis votes by voicing support to federally Reschedule the plant. It is too late in the game to Reschedule; it is now time to Deschedule with Bernie. Yet, your position on marijuana aligns more with Hillary than Bernie. When you opposed legalization during the Senate Judiciary Committee on cannabis legalization in November 2015, you came out in support to “liberalize” the Medical Marijuana Program. Whatever your exact meaning on this, it seems to fall in the Reschedule field of Hillary, rather than the Deschedule field of Bernie. Remember, young people are calling for Legalization – not Medicalization.
Legalization would boost NJ’s economy with new employment opportunities from a billion dollar industry; enforce taxes similar to Colorado’s that designates certain percentages to building schools and not prisons; end the mass incarceration of thousands of blacks and minorities in the state annually; create a serious discussion about healthcare reform; and provide a safer and more appropriate atmosphere for cannabis consumers.
I applaud the work you did in the Bridge-gate Scandal to expose the “misuse of taxpayer resources.” But what about the $127 million that state wastes on cannabis arrests each year? Couldn’t that money be better spent in drug rehab programs, employment programs or social service programs? That doesn’t even begin to reveal the billions of dollars involved in recreational legalization. Legalization has led directly to new employment opportunities in multiple ways. In the first 11 months of 2015, Colorado was just shy of reaching $1 billion in weed sales. This is incredible considering Colorado only has a population of 5.4 million, almost half of New Jersey’s population of nearly 9 million. Why is this lucrative industry closed to the public in NJ.
As you pointed out yourself, NJ’s poor people can barely get by. If this is true, why are we allowing a War to be declared on them? The War on Drugs is a racist program that is really a War on Humans, particularly poor people of color. Michelle Alexander correctly linked cannabis prohibition to the “New Jim Crow”, which has made the U.S. the worldwide leader of mass incarceration. Alexander wrote in the Nation in February 2016, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” in which she showed how Bernie was the better choice for black people than Hillary because of her previous drug laws that landed millions of people in prison. Alexander wrote about the upcoming election: “Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.” If cannabis legalization is not called for, then Sanders’ might lose the black vote and the only chance he has to win the presidential election. Moreover, Bernie Sanders gained the support of NJ’s most famous black cannabis activist, NJWeedman. NJWeedman came out in support of Bernie in his Trentonian article, “Bernie Sanders is Now on My Pot-dar,” in which he stated: “As a black American, I consider the marijuana laws part of a new age concrete plantation system — Jim Crowism at its vilest. It’s a fact that I’m 3 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than my white pothead friends.”
NJ arrests for cannabis are an embarrassment to social justice. NJ citizen Jon Peditto is currently gaining national attention over his unjust sentence of 8 years in prison for growing 17 plants, and even NJ 101. 5 radio came out in support of Peditto despite previous anti-legalization views. The 2013 NJ-ACLU Report showed that black persons were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white persons, despite equal usage. The report also listed six NJ counties with racial disparity arrests above the national average of 3.73. NJ cannabis arrests shot up 10 percent in 2012 and 2013. The 24,765 arrests in 2013 served as the highest amount of arrests for pot in 20 years, nearly double the amount arrested in 1993. In the five years prior to 2013, the average amount of arrests each year was close to 22,000. The punishment is almost as bad, with first time offenders potentially facing six months in prison and up to $1,000 in fines. For the state as a whole, cannabis arrests account for 57 percent of all drug arrests, “more than all other drug possession and sales arrests combined.”
Decriminalization should immediately become a plank for the Sanders’ campaign in NJ. Sanders is clearly in support of Decriminalization: “We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs.” NJ remains one of the last states along the Northern-East Coast to not have Decriminalization setup. Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Delaware have all Decriminalized cannabis along the East Coast, and Philadelphia (PA) and Pittsburgh (PA) are the two largest cities to Decriminalize. It should be noted Sanders’ home state of Vermont is Decriminalized and has a huge population of cannabis consumers: “Vermonters likely consumed between 15 and 25 metric tons of marijuana and spent between $125 million and $225 million on marijuana in 2014.” Moreover, the lack of Decriminalization in NJ increases the chances of medical patients being arrested. This is why liberalizing the medical marijuana program is not enough. Certain medical groups would remain excluded during this long and arbitrary process. No one can be safe under the current laws, and only legalization can provide the blanket to protect all cannabis consumers.
NJ annual arrests for cannabis have risen since the state passed the MMP in 2010. Six years later, only five of the promised six dispensaries are open, which is completely inadequate in such a large state. With little more than 5,000 patients involved in the program, it can be declared one of the most inefficient and impractical medical programs in place nationwide. Patients are unable to afford the thousands of dollars required to remain in the program and purchase medicine. All of this despite the fact that cannabis is proven to be one of the best medicines for cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, glaucoma, nausea, Lou Gehrig’s disease and hundreds of other conditions. This makes cannabis a huge healthcare-cost matter.
Lastly, legalizing cannabis would not like adding another vice to society. Quite the opposite. “Marijuana is Safer than Alcohol” is a famous phrase from the marijuana movement. Alcohol is involved in 2/3 of all domestic abuse cases. More than 40 percent of murderers in jail or state prison reported they were drinking at the time of their offenses, and nearly half of those convicted for assault reported to be drinking when the offenses took place. In contrast, cannabis reduces aggressiveness and risks of violence. Alcohol is the third largest killer in the nation with roughly 79,000 deaths a year, trailing the nation’s number one killer, tobacco, which kills about 440,000 people per year. Marijuana has zero cases of overdoses. Proper citizens are currently prohibited from consuming cannabis and are forced to drink alcohol because alcohol doesn’t remain in the system long enough to show up days later on a drug test. Thus by keeping cannabis illegal, we are actually forcing citizens to choose a vice over a healthy alternative. Specifically in NJ we should be saying “Marijuana is Safer than Heroin.” NJ’s notorious increase in heroin overdoses has not been challenged seriously because not one politician has applied this line. The state’s huge epidemic of heroin overdoses “eclipses homicide, suicide, car accidents and AIDS as a cause of death in the state.” There were 741 heroin overdoses in the state in 2013, rising to 781 in 2014. Just like with alcohol and prescription pills, cannabis is a safer alternative than heroine. Cannabis legalization would not only provide cannabis as an alternative, but would once again fund current drug rehabs and expand drug treatment centers through regulation and taxation.
Today, more than half the state of NJ supports full legalization, while many more support some kind of decriminalization. More than 2/3 of Americans nationwide already recognize cannabis as a medicine, and therefore calls for merely expanding the medical program come off as weak and too late. NJ Democrats under the Sanders campaign should come out for full legalization. Otherwise young people and cannabis consumers will be left behind the political revolution, or perhaps will lead to the failure of the political revolution. Either way, cannabis consumers can no longer continue voting for Prohibitions. No more Mass Incarceration. No more lost employment opportunities. No more Prohibition. Legalize Now!
February 10, 2016.