Senator Ronald L. Rice issued a statement today on what he called “the deliberate stalling by the state Senate and its Judiciary Committee” to move the current comprehensive bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana:
In February 2018, I introduced a bipartisan bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana as a compromise to avert the damage that legalization would have on a state so vulnerable to its harmful impact on urban communities and their surrounding suburbs.
Along with other legislators and civic leaders committed to the welfare of communities of color, I have fought long and hard for decriminalization to correct an unjust system that causes Blacks and people of color to be arrested and incarcerated at three to four times the rate of whites for the same marijuana offense.
This legislation is not an earth-shattering pivot that would turn our state on its ear or hurl us into a chaotic upheaval. This is a simple, common sense, compassionate law that protects many residents. It levels the playing field so that Blacks, people of color and those unable to afford the same legal representation as affluent offenders do not find themselves arrested, incarcerated and rendered unable to obtain work, housing or even student loans.
The current decriminalization bill, S-2535, that I co-sponsor with Senators Ruiz and Cunningham, has been sitting in the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee since this past June 4th.
I appeal to everyone in our state to consider why has it taken two years and seven months to pass a common sense, compassionate, just law? Could it be a structural bias entrenched in our state systems of government and criminal justice? Could it have something to do with the greed of investors, “insiders” and others who seek to profit by forcing the recreational marijuana industry into New Jersey – the nation’s most densely populated state and most ill-suited to absorb the projected harm? Could it be a fear that somehow decriminalization would jeopardize the legalization referendum on November’s ballot?
I have requested a meeting with Senate President Sweeney and Judiciary Committee Chair Scutari to determine what motivation may be behind this blatant disregard for the 100 New Jerseyans – mostly poor, young and minority – who are arrested for small amount marijuana offenses every single day.
It was bad enough last November when Governor Murphy lamented the arrests of “roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color…every week for low-level drug offenses.” But today, if offenders survive the arrest without being shot on the street, they are at peril of being incarcerated in crowded prisons during the coronavirus pandemic. We are subjecting pot smokers to all this risk of life and limb – and making taxpayers pick up the tab – because a bill concerning small amount marijuana charges languishes in committee?
What is wrong with us?
I demand that Senate Bill 2535 be considered by the Judiciary Committee immediately or that it be reassigned to another committee and fast-tracked into law.
I am further compelled to remind my colleagues and all residents of our state that the Black Lives Matter movement is more than a response to state-sanctioned violence to Black bodies and anti-Black racism. It is a call to establish the full social, economic and political justice needed for Black lives to matter in every way, on every level. For Black lives to be at ease. To breathe freely. And to flourish.