Legalizing recreational cannabis isn’t just an issue of making weed more available to consumers or increasing state tax profits, it’s “a racial justice issue and a civil rights crisis,” according to head of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Amol Sinha.
After accepting the position of state ACLU executive director in September, Sinha has conducted what he called a statewide “listening tour” to evaluate priority concerns, including drug law reform.
He’s found that, “In New Jersey you are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession if you’re black than if you’re white,” and said that combined with “the context of our racial disparity rates in the prison system in New Jersey. It feels like a compelling need to address this drug enforcement issue that is exacerbating not only disparities, but also costing an arm and a leg,” as reported by the Asbury Park Press.
Legalization is a real possibility for the Garden State at this time. The recently elected Governor Phil Murphy ran on a platform that included cannabis legalization, in the hopes that one stone could both reduce racial disparity of drug crime prison sentences, but also increase state revenue to the tune of $300 million.
However, that plan has hit a couple of snags recently. Even Democratic lawmakers in thes tate have expressed reservations about legalization. Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), who will soon become the speaker of the lower house said that when it comes to cannabis legalization, “I think the devil is in the details.”
Sinha is far from the first voice in the ACLU to express concerns over racial disparity in cannabis arrests. Dabs Magazine reported earlier this year after accumulating and analyzing 2016 crime data that black people are nationally four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes as white people, despite surveys showing that white people actually use marijuana slightly more than black people do.
This, in effect, makes anti-cannabis regulations a kind of Jim Crow law which, in enforcement, is used to target African Americans. That isn’t a new idea, but hopefully it’s one that will gain more traction soon.
Photo via Flickr user Dank Depot