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Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) released a police accountability plan on Tuesday, and it includes proposals to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs to reduce over-policing of communities of color.
The congressman cited statistics showing that black people are significantly more likely to be arrested over cannabis compared to white people, despite comparable rates of consumption. This pattern is part of the systemic racial injustice fueling mass protests across the country, he said.
In New Jersey, the issue of criminal justice has been a key part of the conversation around legalizing recreational marijuana. But high arrest rates and wide racial disparities persist, even as the state draws nearer to legalizing pot. It’s leading to questions of how legalization will affect those already in the system, and how law enforcement will need to overcome new challenges to keep the public safe.
In New Jersey, lawmakers have focused the ongoing debate on the drug war’s ills. Criminal justice equity has been as important as tax revenue as lawmakers debated the details of legalization. That has required open talk about racial profiling, poverty, the vice trade and the effect of a drug conviction in blocking access to everything from college loans and affordable housing to state licenses needed for jobs like cutting hair.
The debate on cannabis legalization in New Jersey now centers of questions of equal justice. Throughout the state, minorities have been twice as likely to face arrest for marijuana possession as whites, despite similar rates of use.
That has meant a disproportionate hit for some communities, including fines or even jail time, with continued barriers for those seeking jobs, student loans, and even housing — records that can follow individuals for the rest of their lives.
To say that Mayor Bill de Blasio is under a lot of pressure to reform policing in New York City would be an understatement. Among the myriad issues and complaints against the NYPD, a recent report shows that New York’s finest has arrested a disproportionate number of minorities for marijuana possession. In response to public uproar, De Blasio announced last week that the NYPD will be making major changes. First and foremost, they will no longer be arresting people for possessing small amounts of weed.
Unequal Policing in New York City