In the campaign to legalize marijuana, one statistic has stood out for years: Black people in New Jersey are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate three times higher than white people, despite similar usage rates.
The severe disparities have persisted, but the number of arrests has skyrocketed. When the ACLU-NJ released a report three years ago analyzing marijuana arrests between 2000 and 2013, marijuana-related arrests were at an all-time high of 27,923 annually. In 2017, that number was 37,623 arrests, as documented in a newly released ACLU-NJ data brief.
Yet on Monday, Nov. 18, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney announced a course of action that would extend this injustice. The plan he announced, for the Legislature to pursue marijuana legalization via constitutional amendment rather than legislation, only prolongs the civil rights crisis of the calamitous drug war. This process would add red tape, and it would create uncertainty surrounding the racial and social justice provisions secured in the current legalization bill, S2703/A4497.
Just days after the Senate president’s announcement, advocates and residents across New Jersey issued a call to New Jersey leadership and lawmakers in a Nov. 21 letter sent by the ACLU-NJ and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) signed by nearly 2,000 people: hold an up-or-down vote to legalize marijuana for adult use before the end of the session. Tens of thousands of lives hang in the balance. A marijuana-related arrest occurs in New Jersey once every 14 minutes on average.