Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML-NJ) have started a new coalition to support decriminalizing marijuana: Sensible New Jersey.
A bi-partisan marijuana decriminalization bill, A4252, was introduced on June 29, 2011 in Trenton. Sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R) the measure would remove criminal penalties for adults who posses less than 15 grams of marijuana.
Gusciora said today, “Right now, an astronomical proportion of marijuana possession charges are for under 15 grams. This is a drain on our already strained police force and our over-burdened court systems.”
New Jersey performs more arrests for marijuana than for all other drugs combined. In 2009 (the most recent data available) 22, 439 people were arrested for possessing less than 50 grams of cannabis. A conservative estimate of cost of arresting and prosecuting these marijuana offenses is about $30 million dollars annually.
Rachel Cotrino, an attorney and Board member at NORML NJ said, “In addition to imprisonment, offenders of the current law face loss of driving privileges from six months to two years. This unreasonably punitive measure causes many, otherwise law abiding citizens, to lose their jobs because they cannot get to work. Offenders also face eviction from their leased premises or loss of public housing. It is time to decriminalize the individual user and remove the current penalties that stifle our community and economy.”
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has joined the effort. Jack Cole, a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police and board chairman for LEAP, said, “As a former undercover narcotics detective in New Jersey, I now know that all the time and resources I spent arresting people for marijuana offenses over the course of my career didn’t accomplish anything good. In addition to being a waste of money that should have been spent solving and preventing violent crimes, these arrests in many cases ruined otherwise productive people’s lives. The marijuana decriminalization bill is a great first step to undoing some of the damage wrought by the failed ‘war on drugs.’”
Fourteen states, including New York (1979), Massachusetts (2008) and Connecticut (2011) have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.
“We are ready to begin this conversation in the legislature and will continue to lay the foundation for this groundbreaking effort. This is about cutting costs and ending the failed practice of criminalizing otherwise productive members of society for possessing a substance that is less dangerous than alcohol,” stated Victor Pinho, a Sensible New Jersey coordinator and NJ Chapter Coordinator for SSDP.