Black communities are far too familiar with being excluded from the table. This time around we are securing our own priority seating. The statistics are clear. Between 2010-2019, New Jersey spent 11.6 billion dollars enforcing the drug war. New Jersey arrests more people for marijuana than almost any other state. Black people are three to four times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana possession despite similar rates of use. The numbers don’t lie, but they only tell half of the story.
Salvation and Social Justice
Earlier this year, New Jersey became the latest of 14 states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Though the legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy decriminalizes the use or possession of up to six ounces of cannabis, putting an end to disproportionate arrests in communities of color, faith leaders in South Jersey are demanding more from state leadership to mitigate the fallout from within the Black community from earlier drug laws.
A social justice advocate is criticizing the makeup of New Jersey’s new Cannabis Regulatory Commission because none of its five seats are held by a Black man.
“There’s no one on the commission who has lived experience with the brutalities of the drug war,” said Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, the founder of the group Salvation and Social Justice. “There’s no one here who knows what it has been like to have been arrested or incarcerated. There’s no one here who was ever in the underground market.”
While lawmakers sent the governor legislation last week that would provide opportunities to have marijuana-related records expunged, the organizations—including ACLU of New Jersey and NAACP New Jersey State Conference—say it does not go far enough to right the wrongs of cannabis criminalization.
In a letter sent to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that was shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, the organizations laid out a suggested step-by-step structured pardon plan which would begin this month and escalate through next September.
Earlier today, Black community leaders from across the state called for the end of the drug war in New Jersey, urging Governor Murphy and Legislative leaders to act now. The group convened via a video press call on Juneteenth, a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
Even though a vote to legalize weed in New Jersey is still months away, the Legislature is considering a bill to decriminalize marijuana that would make a pot bust cheaper than a traffic ticket.
The decriminalization bill, introduced by state Sens. Teresa Ruiz, Sandra Cunningham and Ronald Rice, represents a move clamored for by activists, who say the state needs to decriminalize the drug while it awaits the results of a marijuana legalization ballot question in November.