There are many reasons why Governor Murphy has prioritized legalizing marijuana, but perhaps the most important reason is the social justice aspect. An article posted on NJ.com yesterday displayed statistics about marijuana arrests in each state that were gathered from 2016 data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. According to the article’s analysis of the FBI data, New Jersey ranked third in the nation in total marijuana arrests, and second in the nation in marijuana arrest rate (arrests per 100,000 people). Census data, however, reveals the New Jersey falls outside the top-10 states for total population, which begs the question why is New Jersey’s marijuana arrest rate disproportionately high.
Jon Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia, who was quoted in the NJ.com article, posits that the high arrest rate is likely related to increase police activity in the State. That is, more police in neighborhoods equates to more stops, and therefore more arrest. Gettman’s hypothesis appears to be consistent with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – which is also analyzed in the NJ.com article – which reveals that New Jersey has one of the highest levels of police per capita nation-wide.
Surely, the legalization of marijuana would go a long way in reducing arrests, and incarcerations, of individuals for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana for their own personal use, which will presumably be legal under the anticipated legalization bill. Interestingly, the FBI data demonstrates that about 89% of New Jersey’s marijuana arrests were for possession, as opposed to distribution and greater offenses.
Fn1. The chart on the NJ.com article did not appear to have data for Florida and Illinois.
Pashman Stein Walder Hayden is carefully monitoring developments in New Jersey and federally with respect to marijuana legislation and will be available to help its clients navigate the sure-to-be complex regulatory framework of this potential business frontier.