Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2016
Source: New Jersey Herald (NJ)
Copyright: 2016, The New Jersey Herald
Author: David Danzis, New Jersey Herald
Note: part 3 of 3
Note: part 1:
Note: part 2:


EDITOR'S NOTE: Legalizing recreational marijuana is being considered
in New Jersey.

The most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows public support for
legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey is 58 percent - the
highest it's ever been - with 39 percent opposed.

Although Gov. Chris Christie has said he would not sign a bill
legalizing recreational marijuana, both the state Senate and Assembly
are working on legislation.

This is the third in a three-part series that will explore the issue
of legalizing recreational marijuana and its potential effects on
Sussex County and the surrounding area. The series looks at the
economic, public health and criminal justice impact legalization could
have. All three parts can be viewed at

[end editor's note]

Proponents of legalized recreational marijuana are pushing hard for a
change in the country's marijuana laws because of what they perceive
as the failed results promised by prohibition coupled with the harmful
legal repercussions - such as disproportionate arrests, encroachment
on civil liberties and criminal records for a non-violent, victimless
act - it has on those who get caught.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey calculated
arrest rates for marijuana possession in the state and found that
African Americans were, on average, 2.8 times more likely to be
arrested for simple possession than their Caucasian counterparts. In
Warren County - whose population is over 90 percent Caucasian,
according to 2014 U.S. Census data estimates - African-Americans were
4.5 times more likely to be arrested for simple possession.

Nationwide, Caucasians use marijuana at roughly the same rate as
African- Americans - 11.6 percent to 14 percent between 2001 and 2010
- - and more African-Americans have never used marijuana than Caucasians
- - 59.3 percent to 54.1 percent as of 2010, according to the ACLU report.

The ACLU also found that marijuana arrests accounted for 43.4 percent
of all drug arrests in the state in 2010. A report released last
month by New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for
Marijuana Reform, titled "Marijuana Legalization & Taxation: Positive
Revenue Implications for New Jersey," found the state makes an
average of 24,000 arrests per year for marijuana possession and has
made more than 200,000 such arrests in the last decade.

Low-Hanging Fruit

In New Jersey, when factoring in police, judicial and correction costs
for marijuana prohibition, law enforcement efforts totaled $197
million in 2010, which was 4.2 percent of the total budget from those
three areas, according to FBI crime statistics and budget numbers from
the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Legalization proponents point to figures like those as proof that law
enforcement is an area where ending marijuana prohibition would save a
lot of money, reduce real crime and better utilize law enforcement

Sussex County law enforcement officials say they are skeptical that
legalization would reduce spending or allow them to use their
resources toward other crime categories.

Newton Police Chief Michael Richards said his department does not
devote a specific amount of resources toward marijuana enforcement and
thinks legalization could actually tie up more police resources
because it may amplify drug use.

"There's a chance that, if it were legalized it wouldn't reduce our
drug enforcement efforts, it would increase the amount of work we have
with drug enforcement efforts because more people would be more likely
to expand their drug use," he said.

Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch said the idea that law
enforcement would see significant savings from legalizing marijuana
does not seem likely. He also does not believe recreational marijuana
will have the positive financial impact that pro-legalization people
are predicting.

"It's not like we are focusing any specific amount of work towards
marijuana and that's going to be freed up," Koch said. "That's not
what happens. We're not going to have a 20 percent increase in
manpower to focus on all other crimes. I don't think the monetary
impact is going to be a panacea of money that people think it's going
to be. The societal cost, just like with alcohol, has grave expenses
that the taxes can't cover."

Hardyston Police Chief and President of the Sussex County Asociation
of Chiefs of Police Bret Alemy also said his department does not have
a "heavy investment of manpower into focusing on marijuana
enforcement," but rather focus on "all prohibited drug law

"The majority of our marijuana arrests occur as a result of other law
enforcement endeavors such as motor vehicle law enforcement or when
serving arrest warrants or making arrests for other criminal
offenses," Alemy said. "When we do focus on a dealer or group,
marijuana is often found along with other drugs such as heroin and
prescription pills."

Alemy did not speak on behalf on the association but offered his own
opinion on the issue of legalization.

"I do think that in considering any reform our legislators need to
take a serious look at what has occurred in Colorado as it's quite
concerning," he said. "I don't personally know anyone in law
enforcement that believes (legalizing) marijuana would serve any
positive purpose."

On the other side of the argument is the pro-legalization group Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, which was cofounded by
retired New Jersey State Police Lt. Jack Cole in 2002 and is made up
of more than 150,000 current and former police officers, judges,
prosecutors, prison wardens, FBI and DEA agents.

Retired Lt. Nick Bucci - who spoke at a state Senate Judiciary
Committee hearing in November - was Cole's partner and spent 22 years
as a narcotics detective for the New Jersey State Police. Bucci says
law enforcement has a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal
because prohibition creates a never-ending source of revenue.

"We got federal grants and the grant money is based on the number of
arrests that are made," Bucci explained during a phone interview. "So
when we had to go out and make arrests to get those grants, we looked
to see where we could make those arrests as quickly as possible to
bring those stats up. We'd go after the low-hanging fruit."

Failed Drug War

Bucci said marijuana prohibition created a black market for drug
cartels to thrive. He thinks legalization is a way to stem the flow of
money to those criminal organizations.

"The first step in ending this failed drug policy is to legalize
marijuana thereby taking control of the marketplace from the drug
gangs and regulating distribution, just as we do with alcohol and
cigarettes," he said.

Due to his involvement with LEAP, Bucci still has regular contact with
current members of law enforcement all over the country and says the
tide is turning.

"It's a failed drug war," he said. "That's all I hear from the police
officers, troopers and, even, chiefs of police. They say, 'We ought to
legalize it because it's not working. We've been fighting this war for
over 40 years and we're losing the battle. We've lost the battle.'
This is what I'm hearing everywhere."

Jon-Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey State Municipal
Prosecutors Association, also spoke at the Senate hearing in November.
During his 15-year career as a municipal attorney, Barr said it is
evident to him and many of his peers that the status-quo is not
working and legal resources would be better served by directing
attention elsewhere.

"(The state Municipal Prosecutors Association has) reached a point
where we recognize that the continued prosecution of people for small
amounts of marijuana in New Jersey is a colossal waste of time and
resources, it's unfair and it's simply doing more harm than good," he
said. "The question we really need to ask ourselves is: How is New
Jersey better off? Are we better off with what we have right now,
which is people can buy all the pot they want from a dealer who is not
reputable, who cannot be scrutinized, who is not paying any taxes on
sales and depriving the state of any benefit? Or, can we adopt a
system where there are regulations and controls for how this product
ends up on the market? It seems, to me, a no-brainer."

Evan Nison, director of the New Jersey chapter of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, also spoke at
the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last November. He said the
country has had 40 years to examine the War on Drugs and the facts
about marijuana prohibition are incredibly clear: prohibition has not
had the intended effect despite spending more taxpayer dollars every

Disparity Of Enforcement

Groups such as the ACLU have argued for years that marijuana
prohibition - and the entire "War on Drugs" - unfairly targets people
of a lower economic status, particularly racial minorities.

Nison said NORML believes this to be true as well.

"Young people and minorities bear the brunt of cannabis prohibition,"
he said. "That is a fact. This is a very serious (criminal) justice
issue. It's a really easy target for law enforcement to go after."

In his experience, Barr said he has recognized how people with
financial means fair better in the criminal justice system when it
comes to judicial outcomes from simple possession cases.

"I wouldn't say there is a disparity in arrests, but there is a
disparity in results," Barr said. "The wealthier defendants will be
able to retain very prominent defense council, who will bombard the
prosecutor with motions challenging the search, challenging the stop,
challenging the testing of the marijuana, and going through all types
of defenses, that an indigent person or a person using a public
defender (or reduced-cost appointed attorney) would not be able to get
this type of defense. As a result, they're more likely to be stuck
with a conviction. There's a much better likelihood that a well-off
person is going to be able to get away with it."

Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch said he's not sold on the idea
that marijuana enforcement is targeting specific demographics.

"There may be a higher number people that have been convicted on a
lower socioeconomic plateau with regards to drugs. I don't have those
numbers in front of me, so I'm not going to dispute that without
having (all the facts)," Koch said. "But the fact that there's a drug
or an illegal act that effects one party more than another, it's not
that it's designed to go after anyone, it just happens that they're
the people the law gets applied to because they're the ones violating
it. I don't think that's a justification to legalize a drug that I
think is dangerous."

Bucci said enforcement of marijuana laws is causing more harm to
society than good.

"I took an oath of office, when I joined the state police, to protect
and serve the people of New Jersey. When I look back on my career now,
I think the most rewarding memories I have are the time I spent as a
road trooper, out there helping people on the highways. But as a
narcotics detective I can't help but (feel) I let the people down."
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