New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice (D–Newark) has set himself up as the primary obstacle to Governor Murphy’s campaign promise of legalized marijuana. It isn’t that Senator Rice is an old fashioned prohibitionist. While that position has overwhelmingly been shown to be without scientific basis, at least it has internal consistency. But no — Senator Rice advocates decriminalization of possession of small amounts while leaving it illegal to deal in the herb.
This is absolute insanity. It shows a complete ignorance of the history of prohibition laws and their effects.
Decriminalization leaves the entire business of marijuana right where it is now. It leaves it in the hands of back alley drug dealers who don’t pay taxes, conduct business competition at gun point, sell to anyone regardless of age, and very likely have seriously harmful drugs to push as well. Decriminalization would be, in fact, a boon to such scum. It means their customers no longer have to worry about being arrested.
Decriminalization does absolutely nothing to address drug related issues, avoids the tens of millions in tax revenue states such as Colorado have reaped, and provides no redress for communities of color who have been severely impacted by the draconian prohibition of the past. It does however leave the criminal in charge and making even more profit. And THIS is a position Senator Rice wants the New Jersey legislature to take seriously?
One is inclined to wonder about Senator Rice’s basic mental processes. Can he add 2 plus 2 and get 4?
Marijuana has been this nation’s second big experiment with prohibiting a substance the public wants and this one had far less merit than the first one. Alcohol is a fairly dangerous product. Abuse of it comes easily. It produces serious health consequences and is difficult to control. In spite of that, it has been part of human civilization since the very dawn of recorded history and the ill-starred attempt to eliminate it was doomed from the start. It served only to greatly empower the rise of organized crime in this country.
The Mafia was prohibitions greatest fan. When prohibition was repealed it scrambled for other businesses to infiltrate with the power and wealth prohibition had generated.
Precisely the same process has resulted from marijuana prohibition. This could easily have been predicted had lawmakers been willing to study a bit of history instead of being blindly led by an unholy alliance of racists, “yellow journalists,” blue-stocking preachers, and phony experts in the pay of the Hearst Press syndicate and the manufacturers of artificial fibers who wanted to torpedo the hemp fiber industry.
To quote Dr. Malik Burnett and Dr. Amanda Reiman, writing on drugpolicy.org:
“To understand how we ended up here, it is important to go back to what was happening in the United States in the early 1900’s just after the Mexican Revolution. At this time we saw an influx of immigration from Mexico into states like Texas and Louisiana. Not surprising, these new Americans brought with them their native language, culture and customs. One of these customs was the use of cannabis as a medicine and relaxant.
Mexican immigrants referred to this plant as “marihuana”. While Americans were very familiar with “cannabis” because it was present in almost all tinctures and medicines available at the time, the word “marihuana” was a foreign term. So, when the media began to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the “disruptive Mexicans” with their dangerous native behaviors including marihuana use, the rest of the nation did not know that this “marihuana” was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets.
The demonization of the cannabis plant was an extension of the demonization of the Mexican immigrants. In an effort to control and keep tabs on these new citizens, El Paso, TX borrowed a play from San Francisco’s playbook, which had outlawed opium decades earlier in an effort to control Chinese immigrants. The idea was to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.”
Marijuana suppression served so well as a tool to harass Mexican immigrants. In no time at all it was being used to harass all communities of color and has been effectively so used ever since. It has been very effective in destroying lives, economic opportunities, families and entire communities. It has turned them into drug gang battle grounds. And remember, it isn’t the marijuana itself that has done this — a substance that innumerable studies have shown to be not only harmless but of considerable medical benefit — it is the prohibition of it that has caused the catastrophe.
Is Senator Rice so ignorant of this history? Is he really so incredibly uninformed or is he simply a damn fool?
One way or the other, a man who would advocate the continuation of a policy that has inflicted so much damage on his own community is hardly fit to represent them.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine Editor Emeritus.