OPINION: Marijuana Legislation In New Jersey

By: Jamel Holley, NJ Assemblyman

Led by our dynamic Union County State Senator, Nick Scutari, New Jersey is poised at the brink of an era ready for common sense, modern, post-prohibition style drug policy and the legalization of marijuana.

Admittedly, I was skeptical during the early stages of this discussion, concerned about the well being of my constituents. However, after listening to the perspectives of many, learning even more about the destruction done to my community, understanding how the criminal justice system has excessively injured so many young people —hearing from every side— I’m ready to say drug laws and policies have got to change. I commit to leading the charge supporting the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in New Jersey and implementing a common sense approach to regulation, through appropriate legislation and licensing.

Though a number of my respected peers in the Legislature have expressed some skepticism and concern, I whole heartily believe that the people of New Jersey are prepared to break ground on a new era of responsible drug policy. I believe that the theories that marijuana is a social ill akin to our deadly opioid crisis do not hold water. Therefore, it is time to move beyond spotty, ineffectual, Rockefeller-style drug policy.

Under the current laws, the State of NJ spends around $127 million per year on enforcement of the draconian marijuana policies that have negatively impacted the lives of so many families. For far too long, young people – minority young people in particular – have been systematically held back with respect to student loan eligibility, job placement, and general advancement in life due to the outdated drug policies that I seek to overturn. Regressive fine structures have placed nonviolent young people in vicious cycles of institutional poverty, by labeling them as criminals —this over a substance yielding no body counts, as opposed to the high rates of death from both tobacco use and alcohol, which are legal and regulated.

Aside from the clear and undeniable relief from the disproportionately punitive nature of the status quo drug laws and the current inappropriate scheduling of cannabis, the positive effects of legalizing are plentiful. When this legislation passes, we will be able to focus on developing an industry that will generate much needed revenue. These funds can be used for a number of different items; one added benefit to additional revenues is funding for a comprehensive mental health program.

When legalized, we will no longer have large sets of talented youths forgoing opportunity and the ability to contribute to society because we are bleeding them dry with fines. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what is going on here. It is time to give these men and women the chance to expunge these low level non-violent crimes and give them the ability to contribute to society.

New Jersey has a unique opportunity to set the standard for marijuana regulation nationwide. Other States will begin to look to us to see how we regulate this industry. Using some of the fallbacks and successes from other States, we can develop a plan that serves all New Jerseyans to make this mutually beneficial.

As a legislator, I have always felt that progress is the name of the game. Senator Scutari has effectively demonstrated the case for legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey. Together, we know New Jersey is ready to stop taking policy cues from the movie Reefer Madness (circa 1936), along with other racist films that date to the 1930s. Twenty-first century New Jersey is ready to increase industry and reduce predatory fine structures. New Jersey is ready to enforce laws that are more pressing, generating revenue for things that matter, like affordable pre-school and higher education, progressive leave policies, and so many other, important matters that require more capital than can be gained from chipping away at the most financially disenfranchised in our state. New Jersey is prepared for sensible drug policies and all the healing and opportunity that they can afford.