Pubdate: Fri, 20 Nov 2015
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2015 The Trentonian
Author: Ed Forchion, For The Trentonian


This past week has been a memorable week for me for several reasons, 
but talk of legalizing the substance I enjoy and which has caused the 
government to ruin me tops the list.

Senator Scutari held a public hearing at the state capitol to explore 
the issue of marijuana legalization, a precursor to his sponsored 
legalization bill. Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary 
Committee, called the hearing and explained its purpose as "the first 
step" to introducing his bill (S1896) and "this is the natural next 
step - to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative 
impact prohibition has had."

Scutari said that "he was following the lead of Colorado, which 
netted $2 million in sales tax the first month of legalization." He 
said New Jersey "could realize at least $100 million in revenue, 
which he would divide between the nearly broke Transportation Trust 
Fund, drug enforcement, and women's health programs, which Governor 
Christie cut in 2010.

Now as anyone reading The Trentonian in the last 20 years knows I've 
been a staunch advocate of legalization. There is no louder voice on 
legalization in NJ than mine. I've spoken out to the point of ruining 
my own life for a "cause" many could care less about.

I should've been extremely happy, but I wasn't. I admit I was 
prepared to go to Senator Scutari's hearing not only with a sense of 
skepticism - I contemplated staging a passive act of civil 
disobedience. No, I wasn't going to smoke-out the Capitol like I did 
in 2000, or the Trenton City Hall two weeks ago. I was even jokingly 
asked by a state trooper if I was going to be on my best behavior, to 
which I replied "Of course I am," with a sly smile.

Nonetheless I almost did something unique, but I decided to just 
chill and listen.

My skepticism mainly stemmed from the list of invited speakers, all 
of whom are great speakers for the "cause," but I was extremely 
disappointed the speakers' panel didn't include any "victims." Yeah, 
I was a bit butthurt, I wish I had the opportunity to speak.

I and my family have been victims of NJ's war on weed, as 24,000 
others were last year. True victim stories should've been highlighted 
for the public and press about the consequences of continued pot 
prohibition. This could've thwarted some of the opposition presented 
by Senators Killby and Doherty who clearly want to keep victimizing 
citizens for this beneficial plant, with continued LIES and Reefer 
Madness mentality. (What morons.) There was no firsthand experience 
related to the Senate committee, which a real victim could've done. 
These panelists recited statistics and numbers, but if I or any 
victim had been invited to speak we would've told stories of blood, 
sweat, and tears, of how the war on pot harmed us far more than the 
substance itself.

The panel included Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the American Civil 
Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLUNJ); Evan Nisan, director of 
NORML-NJ (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws); 
Charles White, director of the NAACP-NJ; Bill Caruso managing 
director of Archer Public Affairs, an affiliate of the Haddonfield 
law firm Archer & Greine; Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical 
Marijuana NJ; Jon-Henry Barr, president of the Municipal Prosecutors' 
Association; Lt Bucci of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), 
as well as several others.

Udi went first and gave an informative speech, delivering great 
answers to questions presented to him by the senatorial committee. 
Evan gave the same speech - ditto, they should've coordinated that. 
Bill Caruso provided an informative presentation as well, but I've 
been in a cage for this plant and it doesn't sit as well with me that 
a discussion about money/taxes/ revenue came before a discussion 
about freeing prisoners.

I know he's a lobbyist and the cannabis capitalism being exhibited by 
California, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington State is what's driving 
this push for legalization here in Jersey, but...

I 100% agree with everything these three said, however I believe this 
discussion of legalization should start at stopping arrests and 
freeing the hundreds of persons in NJ prisons/jails for marijuana 
offenses or the consequences of testing positive for pot. (period.) 
How can the Senate be talking about money for this substance while 
lives are wasting away in a cage? Based on lies.

Ken Wolski in my opinion gave the best informative speech, he 
highlighted what was wrong with our current medical marijuana law 
(Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act of 2010) and pointed out 
many of the short comings of that legislative act and raised an 
eyeglass to the obstruction Gov. Christie has engaged in to undermine 
it. He is a career nurse and gave the most grassroots testimonial of them all.

All the panelists touched on the racial disparity, especially Mr. 
White of the NAACP who was put on the second tier of invited guest 
speakers. I believe he should have followed Udi on the fist but I'm 
not a senator what does this pothead know? Mr. White was the panelist 
I had wished to hear speak the most. In the past I could never get 
the NAACP to come out against the war on drugs, in the last year or 
so numerous chapters of the NAACP has done so. African-Americans are 
disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana which 
makes passing the law a civil rights issue. "We have empirical proof 
that the application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied 
to our young people of color." That is what I have always known, so 
personally this was the greatest meter of my own self analysts.

I wanted to yell "I told you so" to everyone at the top of my lungs!

Retired NJ State Trooper Lt Bucci who represented LEAP told of how he 
personally ruined lives enforcing these archaic marijuana laws and 
his new found position was directly to correct the harms to lives he 
did in the past. He recited how he spent years as a patrolling 
trooper and remembers fondly helping people, he also spent most of 
his career on narcotics and regrets most of it. That was powerful, I 
almost felt bad for him. I looked over at the trooper in the 
committee room at the time and I could see he was paying attention to 
Mr. Bucci - great.

Maybe he won't enforce drug laws in the future - lets hope he looks 
the other way at potheads now.

In 5 past Columns I called Mr. Barr a hypocrite for out of his mouth 
he says "legalization" but in his job capacity as a municipal 
prosecutor he prosecutes people every week for marijuana.

I had a brief handshake and conversation with him. (ugh) I didn't 
call him a hypocrite to his face and I listened to what he had to 
say.  Wow great speech but I wish he would just stop prosecuting 
people and encourage others in his organization to also stop. As I 
told him before He could exercise "prosecutorial nullification" too. 
That would go a long way towards legalization if prosecutors stopped 
enforcing the law they clearly see is flawed.

P.S.  Ironically at the same time this hearing was being held there 
was a #blacklivesmatter protest going on outside the statehouse. 
Recently the #blacklivesmatter movement has announced they are 
joining the call for legalization as they recognize this war on 
marijuana has caused many of the conflicts between the police and 
blacks, they too realize it's a civil rights issue.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom