About every 22 minutes, someone in New Jersey is arrested for marijuana.
New Jersey ranks among the highest in the nation in pot arrests. More than 27,000 people were arrested on marijuana offenses in 2012, according to the most recent State Police Uniform Crime Report. New Jersey had the fourth highest number of marijuana arrests and the 15th highest arrest rate that year, according to a study from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
And those arrested are disproportionately black. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that black people were 2.84 times more likely to be arrested in New Jersey for marijuana possession. In Ocean County, black people were four times more likely. The same study found marijuana use among white and black people was roughly equal.
But Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said many questions still need to be answered about marijuana legalization. His biggest question was how one would determine whether someone was sober. He said marijuana stays in one’s urine for as long as 30 days, so it would be difficult to determine whether someone had just smoked or had last smoked two weeks ago.
“What’s your measurement?” he asked. “What’s your standard?”
A possible middle ground could be decriminalization. Philadelphia decriminalized possession of less than 30 grams in October. Possession of that amount results in a $25 fine. Smoking it in public carries a $100 fine.
But it’s too early to tell whether the change in law has been effective, said Philadelphia police Lt. John Stanford. He said arrests are down, but officers are still forced to respond to narcotics complaints, seize the marijuana and return to the police station to fill out paperwork.
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