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As Cannabis Laws Loosen Nationwide, New Jersey is Arresting More People for Marijuana Than Ever

A new report from the ACLU finds that marijuana arrests in New Jersey have climbed steadily since 2000, with a disproportionate focus on the black community.

Arrests for marijuana continue to climb in New Jersey, according to a new report by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, entitled “Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users,” finds that black people in New Jersey are three times more likely than whites to be taken into custody.

Despite that black residents make up about 14 percent of the state’s population, in 2013 they made up 36 percent of those arrested, up from 29 percent in 2000. The racial discrepancy is likely even far higher, the ACLU notes, as state and federal reporting on crime statistics lump Hispanic suspects with white ones.

“This report makes it clear: marijuana prohibition has been a failure, and it has created a civil rights crisis in New Jersey,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou, in a statement announcing the report. “Well over half of all Americans support legalization, but more people are arrested for marijuana possession in our state than ever before. The racial disparity in these arrests has only grown. It’s time to end needless criminalization of Black communities by ending marijuana prohibition.”

Nationwide, cannabis laws have significantly loosened over the past few years. Twenty-nine states have legalized the medical use of marijuana and eight have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Public support for legalization is currently at an all-time high, and last year alone 11 U.S. states passed marijuana measures.

In New Jersey, however, marijuana arrests have steadily increased, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent to cannabis, has long opposed legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and has vowed to fully enforce federal marijuana laws. The ACLU report shows the average number of annual marijuana arrests rose sharply during Christie’s first term and his state is now arresting more people for cannabis possession than ever before. According to the ACLU report, New Jersey police make an arrest for possession every 22 minutes.

DEA marijuana illegal

New Jersey lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for adults. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Linden, is leading the effort to end prohibition. The bill would allow for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults ages 21 years and older. Scutari says the measure would generate at least $300 million in new tax revenue.

Christie, who has called the marijuana bill “stupid,” will see his term end early next year. As soon as he leaves office, lawmakers intend to act on the marijuana legalization law.

“Our state has a choice: it can generate revenue to invest in our communities, or it can waste resources to target our communities for arrest unfairly and unnecessarily,” said Richard Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “The answer is clear: it’s time for legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana for adults.”

With the publication of its report, the ACLU-NJ issued five recommendations:

  1. Legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults.
  2. Investigate the reasons behind racial disparities in arrests throughout the state
  3. Approach marijuana from a public health perspective, not as a police responsibility.
  4. Require police departments to collect and publish comprehensive data on arrests, tickets, stops, and searches.
  5. Reinvest marijuana tax revenue in communities that have been hit hardest by unjust marijuana enforcement.

“The ineffective and harmful prohibition of marijuana has inflicted far more harm on adults than the drug itself,” said Dr. David Nathan, Princeton-based psychiatrist. “For the sake of a just society and public health, the time has come for New Jersey to stop the destruction wrought by useless marijuana arrests.”

You can access the entire ACLU report here.

Learn more about the current cannabis laws in New Jersey and throughout the U.S. by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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