By Assemblyman MICHAEL PATRICK CARROLL
New Jersey tends to lag the rest of the nation in salutary laws. We were among the last to consign the 55 MPH speed limit to the ash bin in history and Route 80/287 HOV lanes remained long after they proved themselves utterly useless. And we continue to represent the outlier in failing to protect 2nd Amendment rights and permit self-service gas.
But one would think that when a clear bipartisan majority exists for a particular action, the political class might motivate itself into motion.
Unrestricted initiative and referendum represents a rotten idea; certain things – like hiking other people’s taxes – ought not be the subject of plebiscites. But, occasionally, the people are so far ahead of the folks who purport to represent them that a little directly democracy is a good thing.
Last November, quite literally from sea to shining sea, the people went to the polls and enacted measures to lift the profoundly destructive prohibition on a plant: marijuana. As NJ lacks initiative and referendum, the Legislature needs to step up and do the job.
I need not reiterate here the compelling rationale for removing the government from the business of using police to deal with what is, at worst, a minor social problem. It suffices to note that when the routinely silly Star Ledger editorial board and your humble-but-always-sagacious corresponded actually agree on policy, odds are it’s a good idea.
The argument against legalization reflects the profoundly misguided notion that anything (arguably) bad for you must be illegal. (I give the devil his due and concede the possibility of some harm.)
Most of the complaints about legalization reflect a profound divorce from reality; Marijuana is already so readily available that usage does not increase much, if at all, when prohibition ends. And as respects “underage” use, that’s a matter for parents, not police.
Marijuana prohibition costs a fortune. Consider the number of police, judges, prosecutors, investigators, wardens, guards, probation and parole officers, etc. we could do without, or assign to more important tasks, were prohibition to end. Think of the defendants, whose lives are affected, if not ruined, and their bank accounts drained, for attracting the attention of the constabulary. And, if that’s not enough, think of the people who lose their lives because the money involved is so great that criminals will kill to keep the boodle flowing.
Put simply, whatever harms flow from usage of this plant, they already exist, despite society’s best efforts, at enormous cost, and will not get worse if we throw in the towel. 100 years of failure should suffice to establish the futility of the prohibitionist regime. To the extent this plant causes any harm, the money spent on law enforcement would be better spent mitigating those consequences.
To the argument that it makes no sense to pass a bill which the Gov promises to veto? It is to laugh; that never stopped the majority before. And I’ve known the Gov for more than 20 years; occasionally, when, upon sober reflection, his initial position turns out to be wrong, he has changed his mind. Let’s give him the chance.
I confess, I don’t quite get the passion some folks bring to this issue, on either side. I don’t understand the attraction of indulgence nor the motivation of those who wish to prevent others from indulging. To me, it’s a simple matter of both philosophy and pragmatism. Freedom, generally, constitutes the preferable policy, and, usually, works better than force.
Or, better, are the costs of a particular policy justified by the benefits?
Here, the costs – in money and in lives – are manifest, the benefits, at best ephemeral.
Lastly, (recently), before the Judiciary Committee, in discussing bail reform, one statistic caught my attention: 282,000 arrests in NJ every year. And we’re looking at huge costs attendant to processing them. While it’s not clear how many of those arrests are for marijuana, consensus is that most are drug-related. Would we, as a society, not be better served with fewer arrests, and the substantially lower costs which shrinking the criminal justice system produces?
Saving millions of scarce taxpayer dollars, while advancing the cause of personal freedom: what’s not to love?
25th District Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll represents Bernardsville, Boonton, Boonton Township,Chester Borough, Chester Township, Denville, Dover, Mendham Borough, Mendham Township, Mine Hill, Morris, Morristown, Mount Arlington, Mountain Lakes, Netcong,Randolph, Rockaway Borough, Roxbury, Victory Gardens, Washington (Morris), and Wharton in the NJ Legislature.