Will Communities Targeted by War on Drugs in NJ Receive Reparations Payments to support social justice reforms, funding health, legal aid, literacy workforce training?

On election day last month, the citizens of New Jersey voted to legalize recreational marijuana via amendment to the state constitution, making New Jersey the first state in the Mid-Atlantic region to take this step. Now state legislators face the question of creating guidelines for how the tax revenue resulting from legalized cannabis sales will be directed. At the beginning of this month, state senators proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would invest the revenue derived from legal cannabis back into communities within the state that have been most heavily targeted in the “War on Drugs.”

war on drugs

For decades, law enforcement agencies nationwide have been spending a substantial percentage of their budgets of time, energy, and finances in pursuing drug offenses, and when looking at the enforcement statistics, a disturbing pattern of racial bias becomes clear. A 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that while marijuana use among Black and white Americans is roughly equal, Black Americans are close to four times as likely to face arrest for marijuana possession. Sentences also tend to be harsher for Black and Brown Americans convicted of drug crimes than for white Americans facing similar charges. After decades of this failed drug policy, the neighborhoods and cities hit hardest face higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and marijuana-related incarceration.

The proposed amendment, SCR-138, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senators Sandra Cunningham, Nick Scutari, and M. Teresa Ruiz, in conjunction with four co-sponsors, would create a Municipal Impact Zones Fund using the revenues gained from taxing legalized marijuana, which would be invested in cities and municipalities with disproportionately high rates of marijuana-related arrests and low median incomes. Under the proposed amendment, 70 percent of annual sales tax revenue and 100 percent of social equity excise fees derived from the sale or cultivation of recreational marijuana would be used to fund a variety of social justice reforms in the targeted communities, including health care, rehabilitation programs, legal aid, and literacy workforce training. However, some legalization advocates are concerned that these steps do not go far enough in helping affected minority communities heal from the ravages of the War on Drugs, and call for more equity restitution and reparations.

The remaining 30 percent of annual sales tax proceeds from adult-use cannabis sales and cultivation would be dedicated, under the proposed amendment, to helping provide the training and equipment needed by state, county, and local law enforcement agencies to identify drug-impaired drivers, as well as to support the efforts of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission and fund what the amendment describes as “other restorative justice programs in Impact Zones.” Details of exactly how these funds would be distributed to law enforcement agencies and what restorative justice programs would be funded remain unavailable at this time.

Amending the New Jersey Constitution requires first that the legislature votes to refer the proposed amendment to the ballot. This requires either a 60 percent vote from both legislative chambers in a single legislative session, or a simple majority vote (50 percent plus one) from both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions. Once successfully referred to the ballot, the proposed amendment, SCR-138, would appear before New Jersey voters in November of 2021. The previous amendment passed in November of this year, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older, added a Section 13 to Section VII of Article IV of the New Jersey Constitution, which will take effect on January 1, 2021. The New Jersey legislature passed the bill and it now heads to the Governor’s desk to sign it into law.

Once the bill is signed and becomes law, what happens to marijuana cases? New Jersey is notorious for its harsh penalties for marijuana charges. New Jersey courts have sentenced to many people to jail who are now on parole, probation, specialized drug court probation, and supervision on conditional discharge programs due to marijuana offenses.

What happens to those convicted of marijuana crimes when marijuana becomes legal in New Jersey? Almost one-million people were arrested in New Jersey for marijuana offenses from 1990 to 2019. Still, law enforcement charged over 2,100 people in November 2019 after the vote legal marijuana.

If you have been convicted of a marijuana offense before the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey, you should contact a board-certified criminal trial attorney to see if your charges can be dismissed or expunged.  Just as important, if you have been charged with a marijuana offense after the vote to legalization marijuana, you should consult with a certified criminal trial attorney.

You want strong legal representation to learn about how the legalization of marijuana affects old and new marijuana charges. Howard Lesnik, Esq. understands the complexities of the new marijuana law and is ready to help you develop a legal strategy to fight these charges and ensure your rights and future are protected.

Contact Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. Immediately

I am a New Jersey criminal trial attorney board certified by the NJ Supreme Court.  New Jersey’s marijuana laws are extremely complex. Anyone who is charged with a SERIOUS court case needs to have an experienced criminal defense attorney.  If you are a family member were issued a criminal charge for marijuana in New Jersey, contact me immediately so I can review your case with the new marijuana laws you and advise you as to all possible avenues to make sure that you are properly represented. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session.

Top 10 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Criminal Defense in New Jersey