NJ NAACP: Legalizing marijuana is a civil rights issue

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Most of those who testified at a New Jersey Senate committee hearing said they support legislation to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Richard Edwards with the New Jersey NAACP said legalizing marijuana is a civil rights issue.

“We as black people and minorities have been incarcerated three times, really almost four times as much as our white counterpart, and the usage is 50-50.”

Princeton psychiatrist Dr. David Nathan said there’s no evidence marijuana is a gateway to using opioids or other drugs.

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“Marijuana prohibition began in the 1930’s over the objections of the American Medical Association based on scare tactics and fabricated evidence that suggested that the drug was highly addictive, made users violent, and was fatal in overdose. We now know that none of those assertions are true. Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol or tobacco, though a portion of the population can indeed become dependent – about 9% of adults.”

Dianna Houenou with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said she believes the legislation would have a positive impact.

“By legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana, New Jersey can focus resources on serious crime, generate more than $300 million per year to fund much-needed community services and programs like drug abuse prevention and drug treatment.”

Opponent Phil Kirschner of Moorestown countered legalizing marijuana for adults means drug dealers will target teenagers.

“The dealers can offer much more potent marijuana than the stores can. The dealers will be able to sell as much as they want.”

Governor Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, opposes legalization. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Nick Scutari wants to have legislation ready for a new governor to sign after taking office in January.

“So next year we’ll be ready to go. Signed, sealed, and delivered within the first hundred days.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Dr. David L. Nathan regarding the addictive qualities of marijuana.

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