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Police In New Jersey’s Largest City Continue Marijuana Arrests At Pre-Legalization Rate

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New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize marijuana in November and the state attorney general is instructing prosecutors to suspend low-level cannabis cases—but the number of marijuana-related arrests in the state’s largest city have remained largely unchanged compared to last year.

That’s according to a recent analysis of crime report data in Newark by Justin Leiby, an associate professor of accountancy at the University of Illinois.

The Newark Police Department made a total of 57 marijuana-related arrests in the first 20 days of this year, compared to 63 arrests made for the same period in 2020. But more notably, that trend is driven by a spike in arrests for simple possession alone, which grew from 39 last year to 48 this year—a 23 percent increase.

This is despite the fact that state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) issued guidance in November telling prosecutors not to take on low-level cannabis cases as lawmakers work to develop regulations for a regulated market. His office also recently circulated a follow-up notice extending that policy until March 31, NJ Advance Media reported.

Meanwhile, cases of possession with the intent to distribute in Newark declined 63 percent, from 24 in the first days of January 202 to just nine in the same time period this year. That activity would not be legalized under the vote-approved referendum.

What makes these statistics all the more troubling from advocates’ perspective is that the overall arrests for all crimes in Newark were lower in the first 20 days of this year compared to 2020. The numbers of busts dropped from 631 to 347, or 45 percent. Yet police are still managing to find new cases where cannabis is involved.

It should be noted that some arrests included in Leiby’s analysis are for marijuana as well as other illicit drugs. But it remains the case that people are still being criminalized and possibly getting records for possessing cannabis when the plant was legalized via referendum and legislation is actively being considered to allow for retail sales.

It’s also the case that cannabis busts may be understated in the data, as some law enforcement descriptions of the arrests generally refer to drugs but do not specify the substances.

When asked about the cannabis arrest data, the Newark Department of Public Safety (NDPS) conducted its own analysis and found that arrests for possession alone were seven percent lower in the first 20 days of January 2021 compared to 2020 (55 versus 59 arrests).

That’s based on the department’s “preliminary numbers for possession of marijuana.” It’s unclear why there are minor discrepancies in the figures provided by Leiby, which is based on publicly available city data, and those from NDPS.

Either way, a minor single-digit reduction in cannabis arrests is probably not what most voters had in mind when they approved legalization at the ballot box in November.

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose defended the enforcement actions in a statement to Marijuana Moment.

“The state of New Jersey has laws that are currently in place that make marijuana a criminal act,” he said. “The current law does not reflect the referendum. Until the laws are changed, we have to abide by the current law. Also, most of the people arrested were given summonses. They were not a criminal matter.”

Leiby said the departments defense of the arrests “is pretty thin given that the New Jersey Attorney General has told prosecutors to stop prosecuting possession cases and delay cases in which there are other pending charges in addition to marijuana possession.”

“What’s the point of arresting people for something prosecutors have been ordered to ignore?” he said. “Note that I am not criticizing the officers doing the arrests, or really even the Newark Police Department. Officers are doing their jobs. If you tell them it’s not their job to arrest people for marijuana possession, then most if not all of them would stop the arrests.”

This analysis may come as an unwelcome surprise to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D), who is a strong proponent of cannabis reform with an eye toward racial justice.

In 2019, he and several other New Jersey mayors called for automatic expungements of low-level marijuana possession and distribution convictions if the state ultimately moved to legalize cannabis. The previous year, he criticized legalization legislation that was in the works because he felt it didn’t do enough to ensure social equity.

Baraka’s office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment for this story.

For police departments that are waiting on enabling legislation for legalization to be enacted before easing off cannabis cases, it may still be a while, as lawmakers have been stuck in a back-and-forth with the governor over a bill that they began crafting after the voter referendum was approved.

Both the legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) are in favor of legalization, but there’s been disagreement over a particular provision related to penalties for underage people who violate the law. The governor wants underage possession to continue to be met with some penalty, but leading lawmakers say it is not their intent to criminalize such activity.

“clean up” bill was expected to get a floor vote this month, but it was postponed after key legislators pulled their support.

“The continued arrests of New Jersey residents, overwhelmingly people of color, for marijuana possession represents a moral and political failing of state lawmakers,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “If the leadership of the Garden State is truly as concerned with justice, the governor would immediately sign the depenalization bill into law and end the draconic policy of putting otherwise law-abiding citizens in handcuffs for the possession of a plant that 67 percent of the voters say should be legal.”

DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the Newark arrest numbers “represent the unfortunate reality of the delay in effectuating legalization in New Jersey.”

“It’s disheartening to see that despite the overwhelming support of New Jersey voters for ending prohibition and cannabis-related arrests, in addition to the majority of legislators supporting cannabis reform legislation that people are still being arrested for cannabis,” he said. “It makes need for action by the Gov. Murphy and the legislature all the more direr.”

Murphy pledged in a State of the State address earlier this month that “we are on the verge of passing an innovative and groundbreaking set of laws to reform our historically unjust approach to marijuana and cannabis.”

He also recently said that he remains “optimistic” that he can reach a deal with lawmakers to revise the enabling legislation they sent him last month, but Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said that “the ball’s in his court,” referring to the governor.

New Mexico Governor And Senate Leader Say Marijuana Legalization Can Pass This Year

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Louisiana House Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill As Other Reforms Advance

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The Louisiana House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, while a committee advanced separate legislation to impose taxes on cannabis sales if the state ends up enacting broader legalization.

Meanwhile, a measure to legalize marijuana sales is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday after being delayed from earlier consideration while the sponsor has worked to build support.

Tuesday’s action on the narrower decriminalization bill is the latest example of marijuana reform advancing in the traditionally conservative legislature this session.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Cedric Glover (D), has gone through several changes since its introduction.

Originally it would have made it so possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis punishable by a $50 fine and no jail time. And while it was gutted in committee last week to maintain a penalty of $300 and/or 15 days in jail, a floor amendment was approved on Tuesday that again removed the threat of incarceration and set the fine at $100.

Members approved the revised bill in a 67-25 vote.

“This bill is about common ground,” Glover said prior to the vote. “You know there are all different iterations of us in here today, black, white, male, female, big, small, conservative, progressive—and many of us who may not agree on as much as 90 plus percent of any given topic, especially when it comes to something as controversial as marijuana.”

“The possession of a small amount of marijuana should no longer result in two things,” he said. “One is setting out a result, and a path, that leads you to becoming a convicted felon. And neither should it set you on a path to go to prison.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In the House Ways and Means Committee, legislation to impose taxes on cannabis sales if Louisiana ends prohibition passed by a voice vote.

As amended by the committee, adults would pay a 15 percent sales tax on cannabis products, in addition to state and local taxes. The resulting revenues would be split between the state general fund and the local local jurisdictions where sales take place, with a chunk of the latter going to support law enforcement. The panel also advanced separate legislation to repeal a current law that requires illicit cannabis sellers to purchase tax stamps for their products. It would only take effect if legalization passes.

Meanwhile, the House approved a bill from Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) on Monday that is meant to align Louisiana’s hemp program with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for the crop that were finalized and took effect in March.

Additionally, a Senate committee advanced a bill on Monday that would impose taxes on raw marijuana flower if those smokeable products are legalized for medical use under another measure that cleared the House last week.

Advocates are closely monitoring each of these developments, but the adult-use legalization bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) is receiving the most attention.

It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retailers. Possession of up to two and a half pounds of cannabis would be lawful. Regulators would be tasked with creating a permit for adults to grow up to six plants for personal use.

The measure has twice been rescheduled for House floor action at the request of Nelson, who has worked on amendments intended to increase support in what is expected to be a close vote. One proposal that has been posted would remove the home cultivation provisions to address concerns that have been raised by law enforcement.

A separate measure from Nelson that the chamber is set to consider this week would establish a $2,500 annual fee for cannabis business licenses and a $100 annual fee for a personal cultivation permit.

There is an additional decriminalization bill moving through the legislature as well.

That legislation, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell (D), would simply remove the existing criminal penalties for possession, distribution and dispensing of cannabis “if the legislature provides for a statutory regulatory system for the legal sale and distribution of marijuana and establishes a sales tax on those sales.”

When it comes to broader legalization, while advocates have generally expected resistance from the governor, who has repeatedly expressed opposition to the reform, he did say last month that he has “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.

Last year, the legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.

As state lawmakers have continued to advance these marijuana reform bills, two recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—show that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Top Connecticut Lawmaker Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Could Get Bumped To Special Session

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Schumer Reiterates That Marijuana Legalization Must Pass Before Cannabis Banking Reform

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With Democrats in control of the Senate this session, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doesn’t plan to jeopardize a marijuana legalization bill he’s working on by advancing a more modest cannabis banking measure first.

In an interview with The Ringer that was released on Tuesday, the senator reiterated that he and his colleagues will be “introducing our bill shortly” to end cannabis prohibition—and he said banking reform legislation that’s been filed will have to wait because “we’re not going to bargain against ourselves.”

Schumer made a similar point in an interview with Marijuana Moment last month, arguing that passing a measure that protects banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses first could jeopardize the chances of advancing comprehensive reform. The thinking is that Republicans and moderate Democrats who are on the fence about a bolder policy change might be less inclined to vote for it if they have an opportunity to pass a more modest bill like the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act instead.

The House has already approved the marijuana banking bill this session along largely bipartisan lines.

“We want a strong, comprehensive bill. We’ll introduce it,” the leader told podcast host Bakari Sellers, adding that “there’s huge support” for legalization, including in conservative states like South Dakota where voters approved a reform initiative last year.

“We’re going to get some support from the right on this as well we hope, and we’re going to push it,” Schumer said. “It’s going to take a little while. We’re going to need a mass campaign. But there’s real excitement in the country to do this.”

Schumer has been working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to draft a legalization bill over the course of the past few months. He’s been making the case for reform everywhere from the Senate floor to a cannabis rally in New York City.

Beyond ending prohibition, Schumer said the proposal he and his colleagues are working on will “ensure restorative justice, public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” similar to what New York lawmakers sought to accomplish in a legalization bill that the governor signed into law late last month.

The senator also said last month that the legalization bill they’re working on will be brought to the floor of his chamber “soon.”

He, Wyden and Booker formally started their reform efforts by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.

Schumer made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.

Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.

He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Top Connecticut Lawmaker Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Could Get Bumped To Special Session

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Top Connecticut Lawmaker Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Could Get Bumped To Special Session

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Facing a tight deadline, a top Connecticut lawmaker said on Tuesday that a bill to legalize marijuana may be taken up in a special session after the legislature completes its regular business for the year.

With the June 9 end of the legislative session less than a month away, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) was asked about the prospects of passing legislation to end cannabis criminalization in 2021—and he said lawmakers have been having “great conversations” with Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) administration as they work through competing reform proposals.

“It’s just one of those issues that we’re working through some of the details that were of concern to everyone over the past couple months, but we’re making progress,” Rojas told a reporter from CT News Junkie during a press conference.

House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) chimed in to say that “if we can find a path to a deal, it’s the kind of thing that I think you could always go into overtime if you had to,” adding that “we’d all be comfortable coming to special session for that issue.”

Watch the Connecticut lawmakers discuss marijuana legalization, starting around 24:40 into the video below:

But while some progress has been made in reconciling competing reform proposals from the governor and the legislature, it’s not clear how close lawmakers are to reaching a deal and moving a proposal to floor votes—and Lamont is still waiting to review updated legalization legislation that’s in the process of being drafted, he said on Monday.

“I can tell you that [administration staff has] put together a very complete law for consideration by the legislature,” the governor said, referring to his own legalization proposal. “It’s sitting on their desk, and we’re ready for some decisions.”

Lamont’s chief of staff added that administration officials have been “meeting with legislative negotiators,” and they’re “waiting for them to provide us a revised draft” of a reform bill.

A bill to legalize marijuana for adult use that the governor is backing cleared the Judiciary Committee last month after being amended by the panel. But if a legalization measure isn’t enacted this year, Lamont said that he anticipates that the issue could go before voters.

“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” Lamont said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”

Ritter similarly said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.

A competing legalization measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D), which is favored by many legalization advocates for its focus on social equity, was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee in March.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A survey from Sacred Heart University (SHU) that was released last month found that about 66 percent of people in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, while 27 percent are opposed.

Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, initially described his legalization plan as a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”

But while advocates have strongly criticized the governor’s plan as inadequate when it comes to equity provisions, Ritter said in March that “optimism abounds” as lawmakers work to merge proposals into a final legalization bill.

Rojas also said that “in principle, equity is important to both the administration and the legislature, and we’re going to work through those details.”

To that end, the majority leader said that working groups have been formed in the Democratic caucuses of the legislature to go through the governor’s proposal and the committee-approved reform bill.

In February, a Lamont administration official stressed during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that Lamont’s proposal it is “not a final bill,” and they want activists “at the table” to further inform the legislation.

The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.

Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.

Ritter said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.” The governor said in an interview earlier this year that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”

The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”

He also said that legalization in Connecticut could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting out-of-state trips to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.

CBD Company’s Appeal Could Let Marijuana And Psychedelics Companies Trademark Businesses Pre-Legalization

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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