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ACLU-NJ Director: Marijuana War is Unjust

3-28-14

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize marijuana. ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the marijuana war is unjust and expensive.

Ofer said that right now in New Jersey the police make 21,000 arrests a year for marijuana possession, which is more than in states that are larger such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. He said that not all communities are treated alike because African-American New Jerseyans are close to three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white New Jerseyans, despite study after study showing similar marijuana usage rates.

“It costs New Jersey right now $127 million to enforce this war on marijuana. So the war on marijuana is an unjust war and an expensive war and it is time to tax and regulate marijuana just like alcohol. When you look at the studies, they show that marijuana in some ways is less addictive than cigarettes and has less harmful effects than alcohol,” said Ofer. “It makes no sense for marijuana to be illegal. In fact, I would argue in some communities, it already is legal because nobody is enforcing it.”

Ofer said that the ACLU-NJ was outraged when news broke that a member of the state police was in civilian garb taking photos of protestors at one of Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall meeting.

“New Jerseyans should be able to express their political views without having to fear government surveillance and without having fear that the government is going to build political dossiers on them,” said Ofer. “We have been talking with the Attorney General’s Office and we are very pleased that the Attorney General has taken this very seriously and has guaranteed us that this practice will stop. We have been speaking with the office about creating regulations to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Ofer said that the Attorney General’s Office personnel told ACLU-NJ that the person taking the photos was in the unit within the state police that is in charge of Christie’s security, but they do not know who did it and they say that no one authorized the individual to do it.

“We have been working with the Attorney General’s Office to understand how this happened and make sure that the photographs are destroyed because it is our understanding that they have not been destroyed yet and to make sure it does not happen again,” said Ofer.

When asked about bail reform, Ofer said one of the most important principles in the criminal justice system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty, yet for hundreds of New Jerseyans that principle is flipped on its head. He said that on any given day in New Jersey, there are around 1,500 people who are in jail because they cannot afford bail that is less than $2,400. Ofer said that it is a broken and discriminatory system and that low income communities of color are disproportionally impacted. ACLU-NJ stands with Chief Justice Rabner, who is calling to change the bail reform system from a resource-based system to a risk-based system, Ofer said.

“There are other ways to ensure that a person shows up to their court date without having to rely on financial resources. There is electronic monitoring, there are home visits, there are other proven ways to make sure that a person comes to court when they need to, which is the whole basis of the bail system and that is what the Chief Justice Committee and that is what we support,” said Ofer.