In 2013, 66 New Jerseyans every day were arrested for low level cannabis-related offenses. That number has risen to 94, a more than 40 percent jump.
Cannabis advocates and politicians in Trenton launched 94 No More on Monday, a campaign focused on bringing attention to the thousands of people arrested annually for low-level cannabis offenses, even during a time when many in New Jersey are pushing for full legalization.
Black and brown people are disproportionately arrested for possession over than their white counter parts, according to the ACLU-NJ. Data from 2016 shows black people are seven times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people in Ocean County. In Hunterdon County, they’re 11 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people.
“Being a young African American male, we are specifically targeted. The numbers, the data is clear,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-20th District. “I often tell people I look at the FBI data, the same data that police departments highlight to get more funding for what they’re doing, The same data says that people who look like me are more likely to be targeted for low level offenses than any other.”
If legislators had passed adult use cannabis legalization on March 25, when a vote was originally scheduled, 15,000 people would not have been arrested, he said.
“That’s 15,000 lives, 15,000 families, 15,000 people. That’s serious,” Holley said.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District; the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association; New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform; Minorities for Medical Marijuana; the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 152; the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey; and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation also took part in Monday’s announcement.
Shaw and Ortiz, both breast cancer survivors, credited cannabis for saving their lives. Both have used their experience to become advocates. Shaw is chief executive of Roundtable Wellness, which applied for a grow license in Trenton; and Ortiz is chief executive at Bloom Wellness, which plans to set up dispensary in South Jersey.
According to Scutari, 65 percent of New Jerseyans believe cannabis should be legalized.
Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and cannabis advocate, spent 22 years working for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. From 1984 to 2006, the inmate population tripled from 9,000 to 27,000, which Wolski attributed to the increased enforcement of drug laws.
“People opposed to marijuana reform say that we need to keep marijuana illegal ‘for the children.’ When a child has a parent in prison, that is an adverse childhood event,” Wolski said in a prepared statement. “Forty percent of children in Trenton live in poverty. Inner-city children in New Jersey suffer from post-traumautic stress disorder because of poverty and violence. Having children live in this war zone nearly guarantees that they will have a lower socioeconomic status, more contact with the criminal justice system, and a greater risk for problematic substance use. The War on Drugs condemns future generations to lives of poverty, violence, and drug abuse.”
Bergen County had the highest number of cannabis possession arrests of any county in 2016 with 3,681 arrests. That’s 396 arrests per 100,000 people. In Monmouth County, 3,351 arrests in 2016 amounted to 534 arrests per 100,000 people. Four other counties ranked among the highest for both greatest number of cannabis-related arrests and highest rates of arrest per 100,000 people – Camden, Union, Burlington and Gloucester.
The #94NoMore campaign will be executed through a variety of means, including public events, according to NJCBA. The campaign will have an active and visible presence at the League of Municipalities Annual Conference in Atlantic City later this week.