Lt. Nicholas Bucci, retired State Police Narcotics Detective and current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, regrets that he spent so much of his working life fighting the War on Drugs.
"I can't help thinking I let people down," said Lt. Bucci at a state senate committee hearing on legalization. "I've spent most of my career fighting the failed war on drugs, and I have seen the message that enforcement of our harsh marijuana law sends: if we catch you experimenting, we will do everything we can to ruin your future."
On Nov. 16, New Jersey's Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from politicians, activists, and law enforcers on the benefits of legalization and the damages of prohibition. The hearing was part of Senator Nicholas Scutari's ongoing efforts to make cannabis legal in the Garden State.
Scutari introduced a bill to legalize cannabis in March of last year. He sees this hearing as the next step in the long journey toward reforming New Jersey's marijuana laws.
The testimonies ranged from pleas for social justice to a focus on governmental hypocrisy and abuses of power. Here's a sampling of what the experts said:
1. Jon-Henry Barr, prosecutor and president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association
" We are damaging or ruining the lives of good and decent citizens. The winners in our current system are drug dealers. I am a lifelong, fiscally conservative Republican. Republicans like myself are against the wasteful spending of government programs that do not work and are not necessary. The war on marijuana is a government program that does not work and is not necessary."
" The only time marijuana plays a gateway role is when drug dealers on the street corners use marijuana sales as a gateway to selling New Jerseyans harder drugs."
" I've seen too many cases of lives ruined by marijuana - not by the drug itself, but by a justice system that uses a sledgehammer to kill a bee. Marijuana is unsafe for underage users and a small minority of adult users, but alcohol and tobacco pose a far greater threat to public health."
3. Evan Nison, executive director of NORML New Jersey
" New Jersey erodes its residents' respect for the law and criminalizes over 24,000 otherwise law abiding citizens a year. Moving the sale of marijuana into a regulated system also both created legitimate jobs and appears to have either reduced or maintained the status quo of teen use in both Colorado and Washington."
" Somebody is arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey every 21 minutes. All of these arrests take place despite the fact that a majority of Americans and a majority of New Jerseyans support marijuana legalization."
" Black individuals in New Jersey are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana as whites, despite similar usage rates. This is a civil rights issue."
" We need to move marijuana and marijuana dealers off the corner and put it behind the counter, where it can be regulated."