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Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland) issued the following statement in alliance with advocates for social justice who are supporting the marijuana legalization and expungement bills before the Legislature. Richard T. Smith, the President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, delivered the statement on behalf of Senator Sweeney at today’s news conference with Governor Phil Murphy, advocates, and community and faith leaders:
“We are approaching a floor vote on reform legislation following years of hard work and commitment by advocates and elected officials. It is a cause we have all embraced: the reform of marijuana laws that have had a discriminatory impact on minorities. They have suffered the most from the drug laws and the disparities in how those laws have been implemented. The so-called War on Drugs has had an unfair impact on the lives of minorities and on communities of diversity. It has been a failed policy that we now have the opportunity to change.
“Social justice has always been the driving force in my pursuit of marijuana legalization, and equal opportunities are my principal goals in the bills we have put before the Legislature. It is a thoughtful plan that will advance important social justice reforms, begin to reverse the discriminatory impact drug laws have had on minorities, and offer economic opportunities to the individuals and communities who have experienced injustice for generations.
“This is the continuation of our efforts to bring broader reforms to the criminal justice system in New Jersey. It is why I fought for a law requiring independent prosecutors in cases of police-involved fatalities and why I worked to reform the bail system that eliminated what was really a system of debtors’ prisons. It was a system that kept people in jail – often for long periods of time and for minor offenses – simply because they couldn’t afford bail. It was a system that we reformed.
“But there is more to do. The justice reforms in the cannabis legislation and in the expungement bill authored by Senators Sandra Cunningham and Teresa Ruiz offer opportunities to make further strides. They will advance social justice, legal justice and economic justice in meaningful ways. This is an opportunity for continued progress as we strive for a society that respects the rights of everyone.”