New Jersey Prosecutor Predicts an Override to Christie Pot Veto

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Lawyers who routinely prosecute pot users have come out in favor of decriminalizing the plant in New Jersey.

"We are on the forefront of this issue because we are attorneys sworn to represent the state and we see who we are prosecuting," said Jon-Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association. "We hope that by coming out in favor of decriminalization that we can further the discussion that exists that we need a new approach to this issue because the status quo is no longer working."

Also See: MainStreet's Marijuana Coverage Page

Made up of 150 prosecutors, the association's board of ten trustees voted to endorse legalizing the possession of marijuana on February 21 with only two board members opposing and one abstaining.

"We have found that having police officers taken out of their patrol cars and off the streets to testify in court for hours on end for pot possession is a waste of time, manpower and resources," Barr told Mainstreet.

The association's support comes on the heels of Democratic Senator Nicholas Scutari's marijuana bill that was introduced to the New Jersey legislature in March.

"Many in law enforcement have been supportive of cannabis reform in private but this public announcement is a very significant development," said Michael Chazukow, outreach director with National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in New Jersey.

Scutari's bill would legalize the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana, set up an agency to oversee the industry and funnel the sales tax revenue to the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, drug prevention and enforcement efforts and women's health programs.

Also See: Colorado's Attorney General Still Says Legalized Pot Is Bad Public Policy

"The decriminalization of cannabis would allow police and prosecutors like me to focus more attention on victim oriented crimes rather than victimless crimes and generate revenue for the state tax coffers rather than for drug dealers," said Barr who is a municipal prosecutor in Clark Township and Kenilworth Borough when court is in session. "It would also likely inhibit access to minors. Right now, it's easier for teens to get a joint than a bottle of booze because alcohol is regulated."

Much like Senator Scutari, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora sponsored a bill legalizing possession of one ounce of marijuana however Gusciora's bill does not include a taxation or regulation system. It does however ask for a voter referendum to usher in the new law.

"NORML New Jersey feels that this bill does not go far enough and supports the Scutari proposal," Chazukow told MainStreet.

The road to legalization in New Jersey is not paved. Despite the prosecutor association's endorsement, Governor Chris Christie remains a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana.

"The governor is in the shrinking minority viewpoint on this issue," said Barr. "There are a growing number of Republicans, including myself, who do not agree with Governor Christie and there may be enough votes in the legislature to over ride his veto."

About 58% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, which is up from 12% in 1969, according to NORML.

"The energy extended to convict a 20 year old of the mere possession of a single joint far exceeds the benefit to society and it's happening over and over again in court rooms up and down the state," said Barr. "Probation officers are spending time monitoring people who did nothing but possess a joint and after 13 years on the job there's got to be a better way to spend New Jersey tax payer money than this."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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