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Social Justice Arguments for Marijuana Legalization


April 24, 2018
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In supporting the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey, Governor-elect Phil Murphy is not focused solely on the potential revenue the cannabis industry could generate for the state. Rather, he is also a vocal proponent of decriminalizing the drug as a means to promote social justice.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Sophia (Unsplash.com)

“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy said in his primary victory speech. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”

Racial Inequality in Marijuana Arrest 

In 2012, one person was arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey approximately every 22 minutes. In addition, marijuana possession arrests constituted three out of every five drug arrests in New Jersey that year. While many Americans now equate marijuana use with drinking alcohol, it is still illegal. A drug arrest in New Jersey can have a debilitating impact on a person’s future, including consequences for one’s job prospects, housing access, financial health, familial integrity, immigration status, and educational opportunities

While African Americans and whites in New Jersey use marijuana at the same rates, blacks are more likely to be penalized. Studies confirm that people of color nationwide are disproportionately arrested for marijuana-related crimes even though their use rates are similar to those of white Americans. In 2015, the Sentencing Project estimated that black Americans are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as their white counterparts, despite being only 1.3 times as likely to use pot. In addition to the significant long-term consequences of a marijuana conviction, proponents of decriminalization argue that marijuana laws have long been used to further discriminatory policies like stop and frisk, racial profiling, and the deportation of minorities. 

NJ’s Proposed Bill Legalizing Marijuana 

If Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s proposed marijuana legalization bill (Senate Bill 3195) becomes law, recreational users over the age of 21 would be permitted to possess up to 1 ounce of the drug, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form, and 7 grams of concentrate. Any person convicted of marijuana possession prior to the effective date of the law would also be eligible to seek expungement. 

In support of the bill, Sen. Scutari argues that the state’s marijuana enforcement policies have been ineffective and wasteful. Overall, law enforcement officers arrest more than 22,000 people a year for marijuana possession, which ultimately costs taxpayers more than $125 million. Proponents of legalization also maintain that decriminalizing marijuana will allow the state’s criminal justice system to focus on serious crime and public safety issues.

On the federal level, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has also introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana. The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and, thereby, make it legal on the federal level. 

In addition, the Marijuana Justice Act would automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes. It would also allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing.

“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Senator Booker said in a press statement. “They don’t make our communities any safer – instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.” 

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