Sativa Cross, CMMNJ, and Libertarian candidate Jesse Ehrnstrom organized a decriminalization and New Jersey cannabis legalization rally in Trenton.
With the multiple failures of cannabis reform in New Jersey, police have continued arresting individuals for cannabis.
In the wake of the George Floyd Black Lives Matter mass protests earlier this summer, a comprehensive decriminalization bill went through the Assembly from introduction to passage in a week. However, its State Senate companion, S. 2535, has yet to have a hearing.
Some say they are concerned decriminalization could detract from the referendum.
Libertarian congressional candidate Jesse Ehrnstrom said that after the early gains of the Civil Rights movement, “They had to implement Jim Crow round two because that’s what the War on Drugs is.”
He explained that felons arrested for cannabis cannot exercise their rights in the manner that Jim Crow restricted the rights of African Americans.
“We are in this together as Americans,” Ehrnstrom said.
He explained it as part of a need to push for cannabis reform and address economic inequality.
NAACP Southern Burlington County Political Action Chair Tyrus Ballard said he was initially neutral on legalization.
“I learned about the phony War on Drugs and how it was used to disenfranchise Black and Brown communities of color,” he said.
Ballard advocated that all cannabis prisoners be freed and their records expunged.
“S. 2535 is a good first step,” Ballard said. He cited other movements that slowly made gains over time, and this is a good first step.
Decriminalization and New Jersey Cannabis Legalization
Noted advocate and businessman Leo Bridgewater spoke.
“As a state, we are in a perpetual state of rob Peter to pay Paul,” Bridgewater said about the state budget shortfall and the intense fights over the budget in recent years. Thus, cannabis can help fill that hole.
Bridgewater said New Jersey could be second behind California in collecting tax revenue from cannabis. Visitors from New York City and elsewhere will visit to buy legal cannabis, which will increase the sales and tax revenue.
Bridgewater urged the crowd to encourage others to vote.
“We have not realized our true power. Our true power is in voting,” Bridgewater said. “We need to vote big.”
“If we vote to legalize adult-use cannabis and do it in big numbers, that is the only real currency politicians respect above money, is votes,” Bridgewater declared.
He explained that pharmaceutical companies, alcohol companies, and the private prison industrial complex are all against New Jersey cannabis legalization for fear it would cut into their profits.
The issue of creating a just market was raised several times.
“Black and Brown people literally make up less than one percent of ownership in the industry,” Bridgewater said.
However, Black legislative leadership has vilified New Jersey cannabis legalization without engaging it to make the industry socially just, Bridgewater lamented.
“You’re asking a bunch of Flintstones to write the rules for a Jetsons game,” Bridgewater said, referring to the popular cartoons and the backward thinking of prohibitionist legislators.
Bridgewater cited the ACLU’s report on marijuana arrests and lamented the statistics.
“Not only does the state of New Jersey like to lock us up, but apparently also they like to beat us as well! Because we represent 80 percent use of force in this state!” he said.
Justice Demanded by CMMNJ
“The war on marijuana is a war on people, and it has cost lives,” said CMMNJ Board member Jo Anne Zito.
“Not only do these laws cause death, they tear apart families, steal income, deny people their rights, and all for a substance used as med and safer than alcohol,” she said.
Zito said S. 2535 would stop police “probable cause” due to the smell of cannabis, which allows them to harass individuals. It also stops drug court and intervention for cannabis.
“How do you make somebody recover from something that can help?” she asked rhetorically.
She said State Senate Judiciary Chair Nick Scutari (D-Union) needs to have a hearing on this bill.
“Some see decriminalize as a threat to legalization; this is the least they can offer now,” Zito said.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Zito said.
Ending the War on Drugs
CCMNJ Executive Director Wolski said he worked for the New Jersey Department of Corrections from 1984 to 2006. In that time, the inmate population rose from 9,000 inmates to 27,000 inmates.”
“Eighty-six percent of those 27,000 inmates were Black and Hispanic. The disproportionate confinement is a disgrace. It’s a terrible social injustice that needs to be corrected. And decriminalization … can begin to address that.
He said many cities have so many schools so dense; many are caught in them.
“Inner-city residents face greater penalties than suburban and rural residents for the same offense. And that is just unfair. That needs to be done away with immediately,” Wolski said.
He spoke about the harsher drug penalties faced by those caught within a school zone.
“Young people have a lot more power in their vote than they think,” he said about voting.
You need to email your legislators and let them know decriminalization is the 1st step they can take.