In December, the legislature passed A21 and A1897 to implement the legalization of cannabis and remove the criminal penalties from its use for anyone 21 years or older. Since then, the Governor has refused to sign these bills despite expressing his support for them before they were passed and now is leveraging his signature with the demand to include civil and criminal penalties on minors who possess cannabis. The rationale for such a demand is not based on facts, nor does it speak to the reality of the harm this approach will have on our children of color.
We know what the impact on black and brown children is when you adopt the Governor’s position. In
Colorado, keeping criminal penalties for minors caused a significant increase in African Americans and
Hispanics’ youth arrest rates. These youth are arrested 300% more than their white peers. In Philadelphia, we saw an across the board 90% drop in arrests with a nominal racial disparity when decriminalization was done for all ages.
The legislative decision not to adopt the Colorado approach was an intentional policy choice that passed
and was agreed to by the Governor after years of discussions over cannabis legalization. Only adults 21
and over would be able to purchase cannabis. Nothing in either A21 or A1897 would legalize the purchase of cannabis for children. In Legislative and community meetings, we heard warnings from law enforcement and community members that black and brown children would become collateral damage in any variation of a system modeled after Colorado. We have seen how the school to prison pipeline turns childhood mistakes into lifelong impairments.
I will not vote yes on any legislation that continues the school to prison pipeline or implements a modernday stop and frisk on our children. We have seen the cost of these interactions and how they often turn dangerous or fatal. Before we can heal the historical harm done to communities of color by the war on drugs, we must stop the current criminalization crisis from capturing our children. The two bills on the Governor’s desk will allow us to fulfill the promise of legalization made to the voters and take a step forward on eliminating the impact that the war on drugs has had on black and brown communities.
Governor Murphy, sign A21 and A1897, stop criminalizing our children.
Nia Gill is the Senator from the 34th District.