Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jun 2017
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2017 Asbury Park Press


Anyone looking to buttress the argument for decriminalizing marijuana
in New Jersey should take a close look at a new American Civil
Liberties Union report regarding the War on Pot. To sum up: It's a
needless fight being waged badly.

Pot arrests have been rising steadily under Gov. Chris Christie, which
shouldn't be a surprise. Christie continues to regard marijuana as a
gateway drug to harder substances, and dragged his feet on
implementing New Jersey's medicinal marijuana law. Christie's
compassion and enlightenment regarding drug addiction and how best to
combat it seems to stop at opioids.

But it's not just the apparent crackdown and the costs -- about $143
million a year to enforce marijuana laws, the ACLU estimates -- that
are so troubling. Arrests also continue to disproportionately target
blacks by a large margin, and appear to be far more focused on users
rather than dealers, even though the latter should be the bigger concern.

It's worth noting that the ACLU does have an agenda here, since the
organization supports legalizing pot. But that doesn't make its
findings any less true or compelling. Law enforcement is wasting far
too much in time and money chasing down pot users -- and likely doing
so in a discriminatory fashion.

Fortunately there's an expiration date on all of this -- the day
Christie is no longer governor. Christie has stood firm against the
growing momentum for legalization. But lawmakers have a legalization
plan teed up for a new governor, as well as the all-important taxation
element that would raise new revenue and serves as the primary
motivating factor.

The pot landscape figures to change in New Jersey regardless of the
November victor. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy strongly
favors legalization, and with a Democratic-led legislature by his
side, action would likely be swift. Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, the
Republican challenger, is more cautious, but doesn't appear likely to
maintain Christie's hard line. She's supportive of expanded use of
medical marijuana, and says she's open to decriminalization -- which
would avert jail sentences for small-time recreational users.

Christie is hardly alone in his opposition, of course. Conservatives
tend to resist legalization on vague and flexible moral principles,
while many physicians warn of legitimate side effects that shouldn't
be ignored or downplayed, even if they fall short of gateway-drug
properties. While New Jersey can certainly use the added revenue,
critics say we shouldn't resort to "blood money."

Public opinion, however, continues to trend toward legalization in
some form. Seven states, as well as Washington, D.C., now allow
recreational pot, albeit with some differing limits; four of those
states approved legalization last November. Studies in Colorado and
Washington, where marijuana has been legal for longer periods, appear
to have shown no surprising or alarming consequences, although some
critics have offered their own more negative interpretations.

In the end, we can find more reasons to decriminalize marijuana in New
Jersey than to oppose it.
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