Legal marijuana is so close in New Jersey you can almost smell it. But does soon-to-be-filed legislation do enough to ensure social equity under a legal cannabis system?
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) isn’t so sure. And he’s calling on fellow mayors to join him in pressing for stronger social justice protections such as the expungement of records for marijuana offenses and permitting those with cannabis-related convictions to obtain business licenses to participate in the legal industry.
In a letter to the NJ Urban Mayors’ Association, Baraka said “there remain serious issues of social justice and equity; municipal self-determination and finances that are not adequately addressed in the pending legislation.”
Here's the letter @StevenFulop @rasjbaraka @RaviBhalla are sending to NJ lawmakers re: including expungement & other #socialjustice issues in upcoming marijuana legislation @NJTVNews pic.twitter.com/QE4HvCvj5x
— Briana Vannozzi (@BriVannozziNJTV) September 6, 2018
“While I support legalization, I can only support legislation that goes even farther to remedy the damage to communities of color caused by years of cannabis prohibition,” he wrote to his fellow Garden State mayors. “I urge you to join me in seeking passage of stronger legislation.”
The letter outlines seven policies that Baraka hopes will be featured in the marijuana legalization bill, which legislative leaders have said they hope to introduce and pass as soon as this month. Besides expungements and licensing requirements, the mayor also wants to ensure that people who are in jail for possession are automatically released and to strengthen parts of the bill that deal with “impact zones.”
“Social Impact Zones to compensate the people whose areas have been damaged by the marijuana prohibition is a necessary idea,” Baraka wrote. “But the concept needs teeth lacking in proposed legislation,” he said, referring to details that have emerged so far about the yet-to-be introduced bill.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) was among the first to voice his support for Baraka’s proposals, tweeting that New Jersey “needs Newark, Jersey City and urban mayors to be fully engaged to meet their state projections.”
Let me be the first to say I stand with @rasjbaraka on this. The state of NJ needs #Newark , #JerseyCity and urban mayors to be fully engaged to meet their state projections. These provisions outlined here are important to us to move 4ward. Period. https://t.co/MTPznzTMz1
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) August 30, 2018
“These provisions outlined here are important to us to move 4ward,” he wrote. “Period.”
Just two months ago, Fulop attempted to decriminalize marijuana in Jersey City—only to be rebuffed by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D), who overruled the policy and argued that a municipal prosecutor does “not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses.”
Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bhalla (D) appeared alongside Baraka in support of his efforts during a press conference on Thursday.
Proud to join @rasjbaraka & @StevenFulop to urge the NJ Legislature to strengthen social justice provisions with pending cannabis legislation. The disparate impact & unjust consequences against our Black and Latino neighbors must be addressed in the final version of the bill. pic.twitter.com/a16W45fWHD
— Ravinder S. Bhalla (@RaviBhalla) September 6, 2018
The mayors emphasized the importance of remediating the long-lasting harms of prohibition and empowering communities that have been disproportionately affected to participate in the legal marijuana system.
Pro-legalization advocacy group New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform live-tweeted some of the statements that came out of the event.
— NJ Marijuana Reform (@NJU4MR) September 6, 2018
.@RaviBhalla: “As the @ACLUNJ reports, blacks are arrested at disproportionate rates for poss. I urge the Legislature to strengthen the provisions on racial and social justice.” #LegalizeItNJ #Hoboken pic.twitter.com/bNn20XJdcM
— NJ Marijuana Reform (@NJU4MR) September 6, 2018
Where do things go from here?
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said that he’s confident he’ll get the votes to pass a legalization bill before the end of September. But for now, the full bill text is not currently available, and so it’s unclear whether the legislation will include all of the provisions the mayors are demanding.
Shortly after Grewal rejected Jersey City’s attempt to decriminalize citywide, he issued a seemingly contradictory guidance memo to municipal prosecutors on marijuana enforcement policy last week, suggesting that they can use prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether or not to pursue cannabis cases.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) made marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his election campaign last year.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
California Gov. Jerry Brown Keeps Saying Mean Things About Marijuana Consumers
During his two stints as California governor—between 1975 and 1983, and 2011 and next January, when he is termed out and may finally retire from almost 50 years of public life—Jerry Brown has become known for several character traits.
He is frugal, to the point of parsimony. He is attentive to issues that are way out there. He is concerned about climate change. And he cannot stop making negative, non-germane non sequiturs about marijuana, his state’s biggest cash crop.
In 2014, he suggested that neither California nor the United States could be a great economic power if marijuana was legalized, thanks to the shiftiness of “the potheads.”
“The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive,” he said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press. “I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
Giving his reasoning why he opposed marijuana legalization, he mused, “how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Now, in a New York Times profile published on Tuesday, while speaking on the subject of climate change, Brown reached deep into his pocket for a very off-topic cannabis-themed barb.
“We either do nothing and smoke marijuana because it’s legalized, or we put our shoulder to the plow and do everything we can,” he told the paper on a recent afternoon (one of 23 interviews he gave that same day, according to the Times). “I don’t know if I’m an optimist. I’m a realist.”
Links between recreational marijuana use and some vague “dumbing-down” of the populace are unfounded, and are reminiscent of the spurious, race-baiting tactics employed by former drug czar Harry Anslinger.
The source of Brown’s opprobrium towards marijuana is not immediately clear.
Before his election in 2010, Brown offered laconic yet incoherent reasoning for his adamant anti-legalization stance.
“You know, the number one drug on the street is marijuana. The cartels are increasingly taking over. This is a serious problem,” he told an interviewer with GQ.
(At the time, California had a thriving medical cannabis industry. Legalized marijuana was later found to compel drug-traffickers to exit trade in the drug and seek other forms of income.)
“I think it’s more prudent for California not to embrace a legalization strategy,” he added. “I don’t think fostering chemicals is a smart move.”
He declined to engage with the interviewer when asked if he’d support a policy of prohibiting alcohol.
Brown’s stance puts the 80-year-old at odds with most of his fellow California Democrats—chief among whom must be Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
After opposing marijuana legalization in 2010, Newsom quickly hopped on board the cannabis bandwagon following Colorado and Washington’s votes to end cannabis prohibition in 2012, and was the most prominent political backer of 2016’s Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California.
Newsom briefly mounted a bid for California governor a decade ago before he was boxed out by the better-funded and better-prepared elder statesman.
In recent years, Brown did eventually sign into law a package of bills that set up a regulated and taxed commercial cannabis industry in the state. But his outdated Reefer Madness views about people who consume marijuana seem to persist, if this week’s Times interview is any indication.
Photo courtesy of Bob Tilden.
Legalizing Psilocybin Could Be The Next Frontier In Drug Policy Reform After Marijuana
Drug policy reform isn’t likely to end with marijuana legalization—and if you’re wondering what the next step in the broader movement could be, it’s worth looking into psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”
Earlier this month, state- and city-level campaigns to change psilocybin laws made small advancements. Organizers in Denver submitted two initiatives to decriminalize the psychedelic compound, which would appear on a citywide ballot in May 2019 if both or either receive enough signatures.
And in Oregon, a measure that would legalize psilocybin-assisted treatment entered the signature gathering stage. That measure would appear on a state ballot in 2020 if the effort succeeds.
“We’re excited to gather signatures in support of establishing a community-based service framework, in which licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, can blaze new trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards,” psychotherapist Tom Eckert, who is a chief petitioner for the measure, said in a press release.
Though there’s still a lot of work to do on the marijuana reform front—and advocates haven’t exactly joined arms with the psilocybin movement yet—the efforts share several parallels. For example, both cannabis and psilocybin are federally banned as Schedule I drugs, meaning the government considers them to have a high potential for abuse and to be medically useless.
Research disputes that position for both substances. While an admittedly larger body of research has demonstrated various therapeutic benefits of marijuana, several studies have found compelling evidence that psilocybin can provide relief for individuals suffering from conditions such as depression and addiction—and research is ongoing.
“To be clear, there’s no scientific basis for psilocybin’s continued inclusion on Schedule I,” Angela Bacca, a strategist for the Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon, said. “It is imperative we change the law to match the reality and science because people are suffering who could otherwise benefit from this safe and uniquely effective service.”
Neither the Denver nor Oregon measures would create a legal retail system for psilocybin, as has been seen throughout the U.S. for marijuana. And in Denver, organizers submitted two separate decriminalization initiatives in order to test the waters, seeing if there’d be enough support to include cultivation in the language of their primary decriminalization measure.
If that initiative fails, the group Denver for Psilocybin will put their energy toward a similar initiative that simply decriminalizes low-level possession and personal use.
“It’s a natural right. It’s a human right,” Kevin Matthews, campaign director for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword. “This one is our Hail Mary victory shot.”
Organizers in California recently attempted to get a psilocybin decriminalization initiative on the 2018 ballot, but that effort failed.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.
Beto O’Rourke Slams Drug War And Police Killing Of Botham Jean At Dallas Event
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, spoke before an animated crowd at a Baptist church in Dallas on Friday, decrying the war on drugs and calling for the end of marijuana prohibition.
The candidate, who’s made a strong showing in his race against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), also commented on the recent killing of an unarmed black man, Botham Jean, at the hands of a Texas police officer.
“How can it be in this day and age—in this very year, in this community—that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer?” O’Rourke asked. “And when we all want justice and the facts and the information to make an informed decision, what is released to the public? That he had a small amount of marijuana in his kitchen? How can that be just in this country?”
“How can we continue to lose the lives of unarmed black men in the United States of America at the hands of white police officers? That is not justice. That is not us. That can and must change. Are you with me on this?”
The audience responded with a resounding standing ovation.
See O’Rourke’s marijuana and criminal justice comments roughly 31 minutes into his Facebook video below:
O’Rourke spent several minutes outlining how the drug war disproportionately impacts communities of color despite the fact that white people use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate.
“It has kept people out of civic life in this country, it has kept them from their freedoms, it has kept them from democratic life in this country.”
Resolving racially discriminatory drug enforcement efforts starts with ending cannabis prohibition, O’Rourke said, noting that he co-sponsored congressional legislation that would do just that. But importantly, the second step is to expunge “the arrest records for anyone arrested for possession of marijuana so they can get on with their lives, live to their full potential, contribute to their maximum capacity.”
One of the congressman’s most salient points contrasted marijuana policies in Texas and fully legal states like California.
“Let me ask you this: in a country where the majority of the states in the union have already decided to make marijuana legal in one form or another—where people in California and Colorado and the Northwest are getting filthy rich legally selling marijuana today—who is going to be the last African American boy or man to rot behind bars in Texas for something that’s legal in almost every other single part of the country?”
“Let’s lead the way on reforming our drug laws,” O’Rourke said. “Let’s end that war on drugs right now because it’s a war on people.”
Cruz has attempted to frame his opponent’s drug reform stance as dangerous, promoting misleading statements attributed to O’Rourke in campaign ads and arguing that he’d exacerbate the opioid epidemic if elected in November.
With opioids ravaging so many American communities, Congressman Beto O’Rourke's radical resolution to legalize all narcotics—including heroin and other deadly opioids—is looking worse and worse all the time: https://t.co/VdwaYMccMn #TXSen
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 1, 2018
Which message will ultimately more resonant with Texas voters is yet to be determined—but the race is looking close.
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Beto O’Rourke.