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New Report Shows New Jersey’s Cannabis Laws Failing Its People

June 16, 2017

Chris Christie, the record-breakingly unpopular governor of New Jersey, is an old-school foe of marijuana, decrying the plant as a life-ruining poison on par with heroin. During his failed presidential campaign, he vowed to fully enforce federal marijuana laws. Denied the opportunity to instigate a national crackdown, Christie is doing what he can to punish cannabis users in his own state–which is now arresting more people for cannabis possession than ever before. According to a new report from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, New Jersey police make an arrest for cannabis possession every 22 minutes.

Released yesterday, the ACLU report found that cannabis arrests in the state have steadily increased since 2000, with a disproportionate focus on New Jersey’s black community.

In 2013 alone, New Jersey law enforcement officers made 24,067 marijuana possession arrests—a 26 percent increase from 2000, when police made 19,607 arrests. In the same year, racial disparity in cannabis possession arrests also reached an all-time high, as black New Jerseyans were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than whites, despite similar usage rates.

That disparity number fluctuated depending on the region. In Pleasant Beach, black residents were 31.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2013—the highest racial disparity of any municipality in the study.

Nearly nine out of 10 marijuana arrests are of consumers, not dealers or drug kingpins, with cannabis possession arrests making up 88% of the state’s total cannabis arrests in 2013. Instead of putting away drug dealers, New Jersey cops are arresting residents who possessed the lowest amount of cannabis.

The potential fallout for cannabis possession is harsh: jail time, a criminal record, the possibility of losing your job and/or driver’s license, not to mention around $1,255 in fines and fees, according to the ACLU report. (Did I mention the possible consequences for one’s immigration status? A student’s financial aid eligibility?)

In total, the state wastes more than $143 million per year enforcing its marijuana criminal possession laws. Over the past decade, New Jersey has spent more than $1 billion to enforce prohibition.

Chris Christie now heads up President Trump’s task force on the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. Which begs the question: Wouldn’t the billion dollars spent to enforce cannabis laws have been better spent on opioid addiction prevention, education, and treatment?

Here’s the full ACLU report:

Gage Peake's Bio Image
Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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