Dear Members of the New Jersey Legislature,
For far too long, the prohibition of cannabis has devastated communities across New Jersey. In that time, the prohibition of cannabis has intensified racial disparities in the criminal justice system and arrests have skyrocketed. In 2017 alone, New Jersey saw nearly 38,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses.
In legalizing through legislation, New Jersey would create a regulatory framework to protect the public health and safety of communities, bolster economic opportunity, and establish critical racial and social justice provisions. In short, it would create a regulated market with employment opportunities, generate an estimated $300 million in annual state tax revenue that would benefit our local communities, and address the glaring racial disparities of cannabis-related arrests and convictions.
The disproportionate harm that the enforcement of prohibition has inflicted on communities of color makes racial and social justice provisions especially important. In New Jersey, Black individuals are arrested for cannabis possession at three times the rate of white individuals, despite similar rates of use. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinx individuals.
An arrest can have wide-reaching, lifelong consequences: loss of employment, child custody, and housing, as well as financial debt from the criminal justice system, to name only a few. Cannabis is legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C. – it's time for New Jersey to stop arresting people for a substance that polls have shown the majority of residents believe should be legal.
In addition to the harms of enforcement to individuals and communities, New Jersey wastes more than $143 million per year to enforce our marijuana possession laws across the state. Adding up the cost of police, courts, and corrections, New Jersey expends tremendous resources to implement and enforce marijuana prohibition. Indeed, throughout the past decade, New Jersey has spent more than $1 billion to enforce these laws. These are resources that could be invested in treatment, education, prevention, or other community needs.
Legislation to tax and regulate cannabis for adults in New Jersey would begin to repair these harms through provisions for expedited expungement, resentencing, non-discrimination for past cannabis convictions, and diversity in the industry. In the last two years, the New Jersey Legislature and the Governor have worked together to advance cannabis legalization. But the final hurdle of getting the few remaining votes still remains. The time has come for you to stand with the majority of New Jerseyans who support the taxation and regulation of cannabis. Please take action, and vote yes for legislation that emphasizes racial and social justice in cannabis legalization.
We, the undersigned, strongly urge you to support the passage of legislation to legalize adult use cannabis when it comes before you in the upcoming lame duck session.