Legal Marijuana In New Jersey: Implications For Justice, Health And The Economy

By Stu Zakim

NEW JERSEY: As New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and the State Legislature beginning debate on reforms to our cannabis laws, a lively discussion was held last night in Montclair to debate the impact of legalized cannabis on the local and state economy, healthcare and civil rights.

Organized by BlueWaveNJ, in partnership with New Jersey United for Marijuana and Reform (NJUMR) and UUFaithActionNJ, Legal Marijuana: Implications for Justice, Health and The Economy gave perspective on the history of marijuana prohibition — from  its roots in he Nixon Drug War, to its disproportionate targeting on communities of color,  and the long-lasting impact classifying Cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug.

Dr. Kamal Kalsi, a doctor who has never touched the plant yet believes strongly in its healing powers, particularly as an alternative to dangerous opiates, discussed his experience as a war veteran witnessing how cannabis helped his fellow soldiers break the pattern of opiate addiction.

Dianna Houenou, ACLU-NJ, presented the state of the damage that law enforcement has had on the minority communities, and how cannabis legalization would bring an end to that practice.  She emphasized the need to expunge the records of those incarcerated for minor cannabis infractions.

Perhaps the most impressive panelist for me was John Henry Barr of the NJ Municipal Prosecutors Association.   Barr and his group were the first NJ law enforcement agency to come out for legalization.  He became active in cannabis law reform after an experience where  he was forced to prosecute a woman for one joint and realizing the incredible negative impact that one small infraction would have on her life.  It’s great to hear that kind of empathy from law enforcement.

Rev. Tim Jones brought the honesty of someone who leads a parish in Newark. He has seen firsthand the destruction that prohibition has had on his parishioners and others in the inner city,  and as a community leader he feels compelled to stand up for drug law reform.

This meeting brought to light the logic and benefits behind pursuing a legislative route to cannabis law reform, versus a ballot initiative.  Not only would NJ take a true leadership role nationally by taking this path, it would lawmakers to include the many regulatory elements and rules that need to be crafted —  packaging, testing, pesticides, labeling and branding — areas that are not addressed by simple voter ballot and can slow down the opening of the marketplace,  as evidenced with the delay and watering down of the Massachusetts bill.