Source: Courier-post.com Steve Wood,
How do you save millions on taxes while bringing millions more to the state economy?
The answer could be blowing in the wind Saturday in Trenton where a group of activists plan to march to the State House, speak out and smoke out.
Launching what organizers call “the strongest cannabis campaign the state has ever seen,” “NJ Spring Smoke Out” is just the beginning in a blaze of pro-marijuana demonstrations set throughout the state this spring, including a return to Trenton on April 20 and to Camden on May 2.
While neighboring states like New York and cities like Philadelphia have adopted marijuana decriminalization laws, New Jersey remains one of the last places one would want to be caught smoking marijuana in public recreationally, given its tough stance on the drug.
But a call for change is the point of any protest.
“It’s in the air a little bit,” says Jay Lassiter, a prominent marijuana and gay marriage activist living in Cherry Hill. “It’s a question of when, not if. As someone who’s used to losing half a dozen times before you get the win, we’re right where we need to be. … We’re really having a discussion and we’re winning that discussion in the court of public opinion.”
HIV patient and medical marijuana advocate speaks on future dispensing facility in Bellmawr, August 29, 2013 in Cherry Hill.
A 48 percent plurality of New Jersey residents polled by Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press last spring supported the legalization of weed, as compared to 47 percent who opposed it. White the state remains divided on marijuana, it also remains tough on users.
More than 21,000 New Jerseyans get arrested for it each year at a rate fourth highest among Northeastern states, according to the latest 2012 data compiled by Addiction Treatment. The Garden State and Delaware will likely ascend in that ranking after New York and Connecticut have since decriminalized marijuana.
A notable marijuana activist, Willingboro resident Chris Goldstein paid for brazenly blazing at a monthly public protest by the Liberty Bell in 2013, being federally prosecuted for what he and his late attorney William Buckman argued was an expression protected by freedom of speech.
The former co-chair of New Jersey National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and current co-chair of Philly NORML was considered blowing smoke, fined $3,000 and ordered to test monthly for marijuana over a two-year probation.
But his version of justice came on Oct. 20 when the bill that he, N.A. Poe and then-Councilman Jim Kenney worked on led to “the largest city in the country to legally decriminalize marijuana.”
Since the ordinance was enacted on Oct. 20, offenders pay only a $25 fine for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana or a $100 fine for consuming it instead of facing jail time, a fine up to $5,000 and a criminal record.
AP: New Jersey issues standards for edible medical marijuana
“Under this policy, police officers will be able to remain focused on more serious offenses,” Kenney said in September. “And many young people will be spared the life-altering consequences of a criminal record, such as limited job prospects, inability to obtain student loans or even join the armed services.”
From that time to Feb. 28, a total of 218 citations were written for possession or public use of a small amount of weed, the city’s Office of Administrative Review told the “Courier-Post.”
“We’re not seeing a slew of citations,” says Goldstein, who also writes a “Philly 420” blog for Philly.com. “One of my fears was that instead of 30 citations a month it’d be like 750 citations, but that hasn’t happened.”
“But really even if we arrest 20,000 people, it’s a drop in the bucket to the number of people smoking.”
New Jersey protesters will hope for similarly lax enforcement from police when they light up at 4:20 p.m. opposite of the Statehouse on Saturday, especially since Garden State penalizes offenders harsher than even Pennsylvania’s former law, doling out a six-month jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine for possessing up to 50 grams of marijuana.