Op-Ed: Trenton needs to stop making excuses, get moving on recreational marijuana

By Matthew Johnson
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One of the few clear-cut results of this year’s unusual election is the voter approval of marijuana legalization in New Jersey.

Two-thirds of voters approved the measure, and the message sent to Trenton is clear: the War on Drugs as we know it has become an abysmal failure, and the legislature has a mandate to end it once and for all. And this mandate comes from citizens across the political spectrum – a majority of Young Republicans support marijuana legalization and many folks in New Jersey who voted Republican also voted Yes on Question #1. 

The goal of bi-partisan criminal justice reform should be to ensure that no one goes to jail for simple drug possession ever again. And it is a proven fact that criminalization of drug possession has disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable members of our society while doing little to stop the cartels and gangs that present the true problems that come with drug prohibition.

That is why I am disheartened to see that Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) is holding up the marijuana decriminalization bill that already passed the Senate because it also reduces criminal penalties for psilocybin mushrooms.

The science is clear on which substances are mostly harmful and highly addictive and which substances are not. I have personally witnessed the harm that opiates and stimulants can inflict on people when misused, and yet people are prescribed these medications at astounding levels in our society to treat health conditions that would be better served by other interventions.

Psilocybin is one of these interventions that could forever change the way that many of our most elusive health problems are treated.

Psilocybin was recently granted “breakthrough therapy” status by the Trump Administration’s FDA due to clinical trials that have demonstrated its ability to treat severe medication-resistant depression with a single controlled dose. Other substances such as ketamine and MDMA are having similar results in treating veterans with PTSD and dealing with mental health issues that have long seemed intractable.

Anyone can misuse even the most innocuous of substances, and that is why drug education and community interventions are the key elements to dealing with the problem of drug abuse. Putting people in jail is not the answer, and incarceration will only make the problems that cause drug abuse to worsen. I believe that drug abuse is primarily a form of self-medication for untreated mental health issues. Treatment and therapy, not incarceration, are the answers to our society’s drug epidemic. Jail should be reserved for people who harm others through acts of fraud, theft, and violence, not those who are simply self-medicating.

The anti-social criminal behaviors that often surround drug abuse should be policed swiftly and firmly, but those who peacefully experiment with drugs while avoiding harming others should be referred for treatment instead of incarceration. Our over-burdened police departments are having their limited budgets and staff further diluted by the need to enforce laws that require documentation and arrest of citizens for possession of small amounts of drugs.

Marijuana decriminalization (A1897/S2535) should be passed as-is so that our hard-working law enforcement officers can focus on serious crimes, and so that arrest for minor possession of drugs like psilocybin which are currently being tested as medical interventions will no longer lead to a five year prison sentence.  Justice delayed is justice denied, and bi-partisan criminal justice reform on the issue of drug policy is long overdue.

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Matthew Johnson is the Chairman of the Cumberland County Young Republican Organization.