ACLU-NJ: Historic Marijuana Vote Signifies Both Progress & More Work Ahead For Legalization to Advance Racial Justice

November 26, 2018

Senate and Assembly committees today advanced legislation to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and up to the floor of the Legislature for a full vote. The historic committee vote came after a marathon joint committee hearing dominated by testimony from advocates making the case for a legalization plan that advances racial justice.

“Today we hit a milestone, and we’ve also come to a crossroads. This pivotal moment determines whether New Jersey will become a model for what social and racial justice in legalization can look like, or whether we’ll be another object lesson in roadblocks that prevented us from moving beyond the inequities of the drug war,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “New Jersey is counting on its leaders in Trenton to lift up the communities that have lost the most from unequal marijuana enforcement.”

The votes by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee represent the first legislative vote on legalization in New Jersey history. Since 2014, the ACLU-NJ has called for legalization as part of the coalition New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.

The legislation makes progress to advance racial justice through legalization, a key goal of advocates. The bill establishes and expedited expungement process to erase marijuana records and creates opportunities for people with prior convictions to participate in the new cannabis industry.

The bill also creates spaces for people who can’t consume at home, allows delivery for people with limited mobility, and works toward an equity program to promote an inclusive industry.

However, advocates expressed consternation about the bill’s omission of critical racial and social justice measures intended to address the harms of aggressive enforcement under the drug war.

Among the shortcomings of the legislation that will ultimately need to be addressed are:

  • No justice reinvestment. The legislation offers some money to defray the cost of expungements, but does not contain any plans for reinvestment in communities harmed by the drug war, which would go toward social needs such as education, re-entry services, and job training.
  • No home-grow. It has no provisions to allow people to grow small amounts of marijuana in their homes for personal use. Given the reality that the same plant grown by someone else would be legal, limited home cultivation should be permitted.

“Today, for the first time, members of the New Jersey Legislature cast a vote on legalizing marijuana. With additional amendments, New Jersey could be a national leader in cannabis legalization,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “The fact that the majority of New Jerseyans support legalization, moved in part by civil rights reasons, speaks to the tireless efforts of advocates and the power of democracy itself. The details of the legislation highlight how much work advocates have accomplished and how much work we still have ahead, both in shaping legislation and carrying out its implementation. The top priorities in the coming weeks and years for legalization must be equity and earnest efforts to repair the devastation wrought by decades of aggressive and discriminatory enforcement of unjust marijuana laws.”

The ACLU-NJ’s testimony is available online. (PDF)

More Reading:

Richard Smith's Testimony

Monica B. Taing's Testimony

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