Marijuana Legalization Is Not the Answer to the Injustices of the War on Drugs

Rice
BY SENATOR RONALD L. RICE
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. He promised to fund a major campaign against drugs and to develop a plan to carry out his war. Reagan’s declaration followed that of President Richard Nixon, whose effort to vilify people of color and tear apart their communities began when he used those same words in 1971.
 
The ‘war on drugs’ theme of these administrations was the political rhetoric that ultimately became the statutory and legislative foundation over the years for the United States’ domestic policy.
 
The campaigns launched by these administrations were designed to change the public’s perception of the use of drugs. They were intended to demonstrate that the administrations of Nixon and Reagan were concerned about public safety, crime prevention and victims of crime. As a result, African-Americans and Latinos became the target. And the public perception became that these groups were responsible for the immoral habits, practices and crime such as drug use, possession, sales, prostitution, and bad conduct in general.
 
The war on drugs was a racially divisive campaign that put countless numbers of black people behind bars, became a political tool for the government and a money-making venture for too many in America. African-American communities to this day suffer from discriminatory practice of mass incarceration of black people. The use and violation of drug laws by whites and blacks are reasonably proportionate; however, the enforcement effort disproportionately affects minorities.
 
In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union found that in New Jersey, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites, despite similar usage rates. There is also disparity in sentencing, with blacks often receiving longer and more severe sentencing, for the same type and similarly-situated crimes.
 
In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, black people are still arrested at a rate of nearly three times greater than whites for a violation of marijuana laws. There are more children being exposed with calls to poison control centers increasing, nearly half of the cases a result of a child ingesting an edible product. There are more babies born with THC in their system due to the mother’s use of marijuana than there were prior to legalization of recreational marijuana, and much we don’t know about the extent of harm this could cause. And there is a lot of money being made by business people and investors, who are largely white, at the expense of people of color. Their profits are also coming at the expense of newborn babies, children and the poor.
 
Meanwhile, New Jersey is intent on moving full speed ahead with legalization.
 
Legalizing recreational marijuana would without a doubt produce in New Jersey’s urban communities, more so than any other community, unintended consequences. It would continue the problems we are seeing now, such as racial profiling and disparity in arrests and incarceration. It would mean increased homelessness and undoubtedly it would mean increased crime. It would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs.
 
The legalization of recreational marijuana is not the answer to the injustice, disparity issues and the discriminatory arrests of people of color. We can begin the process of righting the wrong by passing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana use and possession, releasing people from jails and prisons who are incarcerated for use and possession of marijuana, and by expunging their records.
 
This we can do without passing another Jim Crow law that disproportionately harms people who historically have seen the most suffering as a result of the War on Drugs.
  
New Jersey State Senator Ronald L. Rice represents the 28th Legislative District, which includes the municipalities of Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Newark, and Nutley in Essex County.
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  • Justin Escher Alpert

    Everyone is in agreement that Prohibition is an unjust and failed law, Senator Rice. There is no duty to follow an unjust law, and good citizens in fact exercise the personal liberty every day. As we look to more responsible approaches to marijuana policy, Senator, if we agree that we should “begin the process of righting the wrong by passing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana use and possession, releasing people from jails and prisons who are incarcerated for use and possession of marijuana,” we will begin to secure the blessings of liberty for responsible members of the Cannabis Community. There will remain the issue of safe and legal access. We should note that legalization has been particularly attractive in Las Vegas, so that may be worth exploring. Both candidates for Governor agreed to opening up access to the medical program, so that will be an important part of the conversation. And whether we stay with the medical model or recognize the reality of responsible adult use, we should be looking at research in the universities, disaggregating the cultivation and distribution verticals, and democratizing the economic opportunity. Thank you for all of your leadership, Senator Rice. #LibertyAndProsperity

  • Stephen

    How about the fact Senator Rice that criminalization is simply a bad law for everyone. How about the obvious and distinct historic parallels to Alcohol Prohibition. How about the trillions of dollars wasted over the decades enforcing marijuana criminalization which have left the product as available as ever on our streets. The fact of the matter is that anyone, including your constituents, can acquire marijuana at their convenience right now and the current system only leaves us with zero regulatory control over that market.

    New Jersey is ready and able to be a leader in sensible policy again which doesn’t set out to dictate how people should live their own private lives, but rather considered these peoples personal agency to achieve results that are optimal for reality of life and not just the fictional high and might moral version you have created for your political brand.

  • Stephen

    This does not even touch upon the incredible economic benefit that legalization presents. Something that our desperately cash strapped state needs. A state that came to its current economic strife under decades of your leadership mind you.

  • Bill Brennan

    Senator – You are perpetuating the new Jim Crow by opposing legalization. Cannabis enforcement will shift to minors in NJ after legalization and as we know cannabis enforcement disproportionately affects people of color. – Should we outlaw tobacco and alcohol on that basis as well? Is it ok to keep arresting adult people of color in disproportionate numbers because you anticipate those arrest will continue with minors? I’m disappointed, very disappointed in you for this irrational objection.

  • What!?!??

    If Sen. Ronald Rice does not believe legalization is the solution to ending the unjustifiable War on Drugs and the ensuing Big Prohibition that prays on American citizens,

    then it may just be time to VOTE HIS IGNORANT BUTT OUT OF OFFICE.

    Check his campaign donors and look for their ties to profiting from keeping Cannabis illegal.

    End Big Prohibition.

  • Cannabis legalization is one mitigating response to the injustices of the war on cannabis. Drug legalization is one mitigating response to the injustices of the war on drugs and systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

  • Victor Ramos

    Senator Rice, you have a valid claim that the war on drugs when it begun turned into exactly that, Jim Crow laws but on steroids,(in my opinion) but your objection based on stats from Colorado does nothing to solve the problems faced in the urban communities and the minorities that reside in these areas. Instead, by passing a bill legalizing marijuana use and position within a reasonable amount, it would blaze a path to addressing the unfair treatment and arrest of minorities which their white counterparts seem to escape(but that needs further study to understand why, given that whites smoke as much weed as minorities) but if we move to legalize it, it does solve some of the issues that are prevalent to minority communities, which is being arrested for marijuana possession which does create an unfair advantage when they attempt to attend further schooling or employment. So harping on the negative outcome that the war on drugs was and is, because it hasn’t gone away, you could help by removing these bogus laws and the stigmas that get attached to them, which have been utilized heavily in minority communities, by passing legislation which would help those burdened with the effects that a simple conviction of marijuana possession will cause. So utilizing stats to make your point, instead to aid you in crafting legislation, just demonstrates, how you sir, want to continue, with seeing minorities continually being on the short end of the stick and continue to be arrested for what still is a crime in our great state of NJ. Yes, minorities have been on the short end of the criminal justice system but you have a chance at correcting it and there’s enough data out there that does display and demonstrate how marijuana is not this horrible drug that it has been labeled as, but to the contrary, has shown that the medicinal benefits, even if recreational, is far better then alcohol. So I really have to question your motives, how much money, if any has alcohol tobacco and the pharmaceutical industry forwarded to your campaign by the way?

  • JeffWalenta

    Please don’t let perfect be the enemy of good here. No one thinks that legalization will solve all problems but it as least goes some of the way to correcting some wrongs and making sure that adults aren’t fined or arrested over weed. Also this position is baffeling to me considering the amount of public support behind legalization.

  • LaQuay L. Juel

    I think this is absolutely absurd! 1) Mr. Rice does not obviously realize that Cannabis is not a harmful chemical. It has resulted in zero fatalities. I seriously doubt children in mass are being born with Cannabis in their system, as he reports. Oh wait perhaps they are, since every human is born with Cannabinoids in their system. It’s part of our natural system. Your frame of reference is dated and based false propaganda. It’s a medicinal food that aids the bodies natural regenerative power, not a drug. 2) What are people being arrested for in a state that Cannabis is legal? They should be fined. That’s not a problem of the law, that’s a problem of enforcement that neither legalization nor contniued criminalization will resolve. An entirely different issue. That’s racism, and don’t know what can fix that, other than human transformation. 3) Increased access will without question result in increased misuse, along with every other chemical or product in our society. Children drink windex, is it banned, of course not. That’s again a non-issue as it relates to Cannabis legalization. 4) Are we really arguing against economic empowerment, because in other states the industry is dominated by non-melanated people? So, what we tuck tail and go home. No sir, we stake out a territory of market share and we compete in a market that we are a considerable percentage of consumers. We participate and apply ourselves in a manner to protect our interests, our morality, and our culturally unique view. – I think Mr. Rice, with all due respect, you should increase your level of education on this issue and take an attitude of being victorious rather than being victims.

  • Mike Pacyna

    If you had sources, examples, or anything to back up your claims, I would care what you say, but you don’t. You say crime will rise. From what? You say more minority people will be arrested. Id ask for what, if marijuana is legalized? Increased homelessness? I’d love to hear the argument for that one since an entire industry with jobs would be created. Seriously, take two seconds and think critically before you start writing.

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