New Jersey Legalization Bill Put On Hold As Social Advocates Push For Equality
After New Jersey voters voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the only thing left is to establish the new market. But social justice advocates are dismayed by the state's failure to pass the law, which has come under criticism this week.
The law, which passed a committee in the Senate and National Assembly on Monday but has since been put on hold, increases the sales tax on recreational marijuana sales and allows municipalities to levy a local tax of $2. The proposal also uses tax revenue from weed sales to fund the state's marijuana regulatory commission and pay for increased police training, but it explicitly does not send money to the black and Latino communities most affected by low drug laws. It does not include a consumption tax, which advocates say would lead to a steady increase in revenue. A bill that was introduced was the first of its kind in New Jersey in recent memory, "said Michael O'Neill, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group.
Justice doesn't mean punching them in the face and then just stopping them, "he said. Justice is in their faces, and they will strike you in the face when you are stuck, but then they will stop beating you.
In a joint statement after Monday's hearing on the bill, the New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said all revenue from the recreation tax should go to the communities most affected by systemic racism in the criminal justice system. Drug laws have destroyed the lives of too many people of color through their minimum sentences and we must ensure that this new revenue is used where it can do most to revitalize communities, "the statement said. Black residents are twice as likely as white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of use.
Separately, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a tweet that he supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use in New Jersey and other states.
A separate bill to decriminalize the possession of up to six ounces of marijuana was passed by committees in both chambers, but the bill was withdrawn from scheduled Senate and House votes next week. The law would halt minor arrests for possession while lawmakers continue to work to make the legislation possible, while the state's current drug laws remain in effect under a constitutional amendment passed last week, a spokeswoman for Governor Chris Christie said. It is not clear at this point whether the bills have laid the groundwork for legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey or decriminalizing it in other states.
McKoy said the 42-ounce excise tax included in an earlier bill to legalize marijuana, which did not garner enough support in parliament, could triple revenue when the law is released this week. Boyer also criticized the lack of licenses for blacks and Latinos in the bill, suggesting that more opportunities would be created for people with drug offenses, such as drug dealers, to enter the new market.