On Monday morning I emailed the governor’s people to ask a question that cuts to the heart of his philosophy of government. It read:
“Did he or any of his friends at Harvard ever smoke pot and if so did any have encounters with law enforcement as a result? If so, did they benefit from the encounter?”
I hadn’t heard back as of press time. That’s too bad. The answer could go a long way to explaining just why Phil Murphy refuses to sign the marijuana-legalization legislation that has been on his desk since December.
Since those bills passed, Murphy has been stressing the need to bring what he evidently sees as the benefits of intervention by law enforcement to youthful marijuana users.
Events in the interim have not been kind to his side of the argument. I’m talking of the scandal at the Edna Mahan “Correctional” Facility for Women in Hunterdon County.
I put that word in quotes because the correction in question seems to have included getting punched, kicked and sexually abused.
Murphy’s critics in the Legislature are certainly not arguing that youthful potheads would face that sort of correction. But they are arguing that urban minorities are much less likely than the rest of us to profit from encounters with the police.
“Why do political people want to shove our kids in front of the cops unjustly?” asks state Sen. Ronald Rice.
The Essex County Democrat worked as a Newark cop before becoming a lawyer. In that capacity he became familiar with what is known as a “stationhouse adjustment” for juveniles accused of crimes.
In such a case the juvenile is brought to the stationhouse and his or her parents or guardians are contacted.
“When they’re sitting in the precinct, some of the cops call these kids names. It’s harassment,” Rice said. “If we can avoid that we have to avoid it.”
And if the parents don’t show up by evening, the kid can be sent to juvenile detention, he said. He and his fellow minority legislators call that the “pipeline to prison.”
That’s the nub of the fight between the Legislative Black Caucus and the governor’s office. The decriminalization bill that the Legislature sent to the governor eliminates penalties for possession of up to six ounces of pot. It also states possession by those under 18 would not constitute an “act of delinquency.”
That fight is holding up that bill and a companion bill that would set up a system of state regulation of the weed industry.
Last week an Assembly committee tried to compromise with the governor by passing a “clean-up bill.” This one would permit “juvenile interventions” and “point of violation warnings.”
Rice said those terms are just another excuse to haul the kid into the stationhouse for processing.
“That bill’s not cleaning anything up,” said Rice. “My name is Ronald Rice. If I change it to Muhammad Ali, I’m still Ronald Rice.”
The Essex Democrat who sponsored the bill, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberley, disagreed with Rice that the bill would bring back stationhouse adjustments.
“That’s his interpretation. None of us want that,” Wimberley said. ”We’re all on the same page, including the governor.”
But are the senators on that page? Rice has plenty of support among minority legislators for his opposition to the penalties the governor seeks.
Under that approach urban kids remain more likely to have encounters with law enforcement than their suburban counterparts, Rice said.
“There is no stationhouse adjustment in Deal, Short Hills, Livingston and places like that,” he said. He added the governor’s home town. “They don’t do this stuff down in Middletown.”
Although Rice voted for the decriminalization bill, he is one of the few Democrats who opposed the bill setting up a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to regulate legal sales. He argues that bill will permit the big marijuana marketers to set up what he calls “dummy shops” – dispensaries that hire a few minorities to dispense the product with the profits being taken out of the community.
“These dummy shops will have the kids standing outside,” he said.
They’ll be looking for someone of legal age to buy the weed for them in the time-honored manner of underage kids buying beer, he said.
Rice says he wants to see some sort of treatment for kids caught with pot that does not involve police, perhaps counseling. He’d also like to see more opportunities for urban kids to engage in activities like sports instead of hanging around on the street.
I’m sure the governor never indulged in that sort of thing when he was hanging around Harvard Square. But he’d be wise to ponder the difference between how college kids are treated compared to urban youth.
He’d better start pondering soon. If he doesn’t sign or veto the bills by Monday then they become law.
I’m sure the governor had to have good math skills to get into Harvard.
He’d better start using them.
ALSO – WHY DO WE NEED THAT NEW BUREAUCRACY?
It looks like the free market is producing lots of pot.
There would be a lot more of that is state Senator Gerry Cardinale succeeds in his effort to legalize homegrown.