Sunday, May 1, 2016

NJ’s Cannabis Laws – Nothing Has Changed – There has Been No “Victory”

The raid on The Weedmans Joint this past week has struck a major blow to the movement for legalization and an end to the pot prosecutions in the state of NJ.  Not only were some of the leaders of this effort, including Ed Forchion aka The NJ Weedman arrested and hit with multiple charges, but the police militarized approach to the arrest – in bullet proof SWAT attire and their posing in front of the shop with their battle appropriate machine guns for the media cameras has sent a chilling signal to those who want cannabis legalized in NJ as well as those of us in the Decarceration fight that want an end to mass incarceration and the over prosecution for trivial offenses as well as the racist way that laws are enforced in NJ which leads to Black men and women making up 67% of NJ’s incarcerated population.

At the end of 2015, there was a spate of articles that highlighted the fact that while other states around the nation are moving toward legalization, decriminalization and downplaying of enforcement of what I would call useless cannabis prohibition laws, NJ’s arrest rate for cannabis has actually been on the upswing with the highest number of annual arrests in almost 2 decades!  See:

One of the reactions to the crackdown on The Weedman’s Joint and Temple has been an article by Jeff Edelstein comparing The NJ Weedman’s continued activities in pursuit of legalization to a soldier that basically got himself killed at the end of World War I by rushing the enemy even though the war was literally minutes from being over.  The way he puts it in his article:

While the war might not be over, armistices have been signed all over the place.
But not in New Jersey, not under the rule of Gov. Chris Christie. Give it a few years, put someone who agrees with 60 percent of the country in the governor’s chair, and I promise you New Jersey will make it legal.”

But in the meantime, it’s illegal here. And Forchion, . . .  is still charging at the front lines.”

That comparison falls flat on its face.  In the few years that Edelstein suggests we wait – depending upon whether a few means 2 or 4, somewhere around 50,000 to 100,000 more NJ residents will have been arrested – a harrowing experience where you get physically handled by officers armed with the implements to possibly kill you – you immediately lose your freedom and are thrown in an unhealthy holding cell until you either make bail or face trial.  While most first or even second arrests for small quantities do not result in prison terms, there are fines and fees that are often insurmountable for the arrested so they end up in jails or prisons any way.

So in NJ there is still full scale war on pot and users of cannabis.  There is no victory – there is devastating defeat after defeat to the lives of those that are disrupted by the arrests, as well as a reprehensible medical cannabis system that is costly, inaccessible, severely limiting and medical patients often end up arrested any way for their perfectly legal use of the medicine.  Even for those not arrested, they scurry in the shadows due to NJ’s ongoing prohibition.

According to a 2013 national ACLU study, NJ spends $127 million per year on pot law enforcement and a Black NJ resident is 3 times as likely to be arrested for pot as a white resident, even though the use is roughly equal between those constituencies.  Since NJ arrests continue to increase, there is no reason to believe that the expenditures have decreased – indeed it is likely that they have increased.

The tone of Edelstein’s article is for NJ Weedman to stand down – he even suggests that he move out of NJ to Washington DC or something.  That is a proverbial suggestion to the legalization and decarceration  movements in general as well – why put yourself out there – just wait – things will improve once Christie is out of office – don’t worry – you will see – is what Edelstein seems to be telling us.

To be fair, Edelstein’s heart is probably in the right place.  He has written extensively on the topic and he says in this very article: “I believe marijuana should be 100 percent legal and I think the 25,000 people who get arrested in New Jersey each year for possession should have their records cleared.”  I appreciate that Edelstein in particular includes the Decarceration demand in his statement.  Ed Forchion credits Edelstein as being one of the first to cover his activities to demand legalization including to write about when he (Forchion) lit a joint up in the chambers of the NJ legislature.

However, it is wrong for Edelstein to suggest that the war is one minute from being over, that legalization has won, to promise that the next governor will bring about legalization and to suggest that the movement wait a few more years for that all to happen.  I call upon Edelstein to do some more writing to clarify and reiterate the actual facts of what is happening to NJ residents at the hands of NJ’s draconian prohibition enforcement instead of promoting a myth that all is ok on the NJ streets.  Edelstein should do some research as well as to his assertion that the end of the reign of Christie will automatically bring about legalization – that assertion is unproven at best and could indeed be patently wrong.

While Edelstein is entitled to his views – his views carry much more weight than, for example, my comments on Facebook about them or in this blog article  - since The Trentonian is a much more widely read outlet unfortunately than .  It is harmful to the fight to say that there is victory at hand while there are still 10s of 1000s having their lives disrupted by prohibition in NJ every year – being forced into situations with armed police that could lead to violence and even death.

As stated in the article in the second issue of The NJ Decarcerator entitled “Legalize Yes – But Decarcerate”:
“We need an immediate moratorium across NJ against the continued prosecution – and an end to spending 1/8 a billion ($127 million) per year on pot law enforcement.  We need immediate unconditional amnesty for all those who are facing charges . . . immediate decarceration of anyone being held in jails and anyone incarcerated for marijuana and related charges as well as those who have been returned to incarceration for marijuana related parole violations. . . . The system depends on mass incarceration – particularly of Black, Latino and impoverished – as a means of social control. The war on drugs was initiated in the 60s and 70s in response to the rebellions and liberation movements that were afoot in that day.  If the system can keep those in the super oppressed communities in fear of the police, in fear of prosecution and incarceration – it can undermine the ability of these communities to unite and organize and build structures to resist the onslaughts on these communities like school privatization, gentrification and real estate speculation, the lack of livable wage jobs and cuts in services that are needed by so many because of failures of the economy.  These communities are treated as if everyone is a criminal.  And their ability to resist the daily depredations is diminished by over-policing for petty crimes and mass incarceration.”

In addition to the false premise that the war is won and victory is at hand – in the state of NJ where arrests continue to be on the upswing and we are in the wake of a high profile bust of perhaps the most visible proponent of legalization – complete with the armed propaganda posings of the cops in full riot regalia in front of the shop toting submachine guns . . . there is the unproven hypothesis as to what the next governor will bring to NJ.

While Christie is at the very bottom of his approval rating, he has worked hard at alienating every sector of NJ to get to that low ebb – including much of his own base that used to idolize him as a hero.  So while Christie could not get elected there is no guarantee that the next governor will be a Democrat and there is no guarantee that even if s/he is a Democrat that s/he will make legalization a priority to occur at any point early in their term or during the term at all.  And in the interim, the arrest figures and the lives disrupted, some of those lives ruined, will pile up by the 10s of 1000s.
My recommendation to Jeff Edelstein and to all journalists covering this issue in NJ, is to do some follow up writing:

1.       Correct the false premise that we are at the point of victory in NJ by revisiting the statistics as to how NJ arrest numbers are actually increasing.

2.       Point out that even in lieu of legislative change bringing about legalization, priorities can immediately shift on the local level with city administrations directing the police brass to focus on other areas and prosecutors to dismiss the charges being brought.  Judges can be urged to also dismiss charges and amnesty measures can be passed in the state legislature.

3.       Actually conduct a study of who the likely governatorial hopefuls are – now – and what there history is on this issue and what their stated position is.   They can be asked: What is their position?  How much of a priority do they see legalization being?  Assuming legislative support, how quickly would their administration bring about legalization?  What would their plan be to bring about legalization?  How will they handle the related issue of Decarceration?

4.       Reporters should also investigate the racial dynamics of police enforcement – the profiling that makes it 3 times as likely for a Black NJ resident to get popped than a white resident.  Bringing out these facts can then be utilized to legally challenge the arrests, prosecutions and sentencing of those that were victimized by racist policing – and provide immediate relief to some of the victims of NJ’s pot prohibition.

Many of us are pained by the devastating blow these arrests have had on the movement to legalize and Decarcerate and to NJ Weedman and the others caught up in this over the top dragnet – as well as to the impact NJ’s prohibition has on the lives of the 20,000 plus arrested each year.  The response needs to be not to stand down – but to continued to bring out the facts and to make demands for an end to the arrests and prosecutions – NOW – not years from now.  There are measures that can be taken TODAY on the local level and on the statewide level.

Meanwhile, all those that want to directly support the legal efforts of those arrested can do so at the following link:


  1. Harry J. Anslinger quotes:
    ...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.
    He (Harry J. Anslinger) started the anti marijuana movement on nothing but racism.
    Harry J. Anslinger quotes:
    Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men.

  2. I believe the intent of the commenter above is to show the quotes of the designer of the anti-cannabis laws in the US - head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who was a straight up racist - and who designed the laws as a means to enforce white supremacy - needed to say this just to make clear the intent of the posters - the context is needed.

  3. It's because Stephen Sweeney refuses to vote on the bill he has been sitting on for two years. We don't hold the people we elect accountable.

    1. This is a reason to question the logic in The Trentonian piece that once there is a new governor that legalization is inevitable - could end up being Sweeney - for example - a republican, a democrat opposed to legalization or a democrat that says he is for it but then never prioritizes it (as happened with Gay marriage under Corzine). We do not need false hope - and we need full court press now at the local and state level - locally pressuring councils and mayors to direct their police brass away from pot law enforcement as priority and statewide - directing state police accordingly as well as calling for a law providing amnesty for all facing charges, etc.

  4. Thx for reacting to that piece, I was dihartened when I read him claiming victory. . . smh