Your Weekly NJ Political Bonbons

The author made ten predictions. So far he's 0-for-1.

As anther eventful week in NJ politics yielded to a nice, long three-day weekend, here’s something dishy and opinionated to read while you languish at the Jersey Shore!

A safer, cheaper Fix

In 2007, New Jersey passed needle exchange legislation to protect IV drug users from blood-borne illnesses. We were, perhaps surprisingly, the last state in the nation to do so. Needle exchange is a medically-proven, harm-reduction technique that 1) curbs the transmission of HIV and hepatitis + associated costs and 2) increases a drug user’s odds to find treatment. These are indisputable facts! So it’s criminally stupid that there are only 5 sites in the entire state where addicts can access clean needles. Further compounding the problem, these scant 5 locations must service the entire state without any financial support from Trenton or Washington.
According to the Star Ledger, a clean syringe costs approximately $0.10. A dime a piece. That’s quite a contrast to the $600,000 price tag that comes with a lifetime living with HIV. Given the meteoric rise in heroin abuse, it’s way past time for the New Jersey legislature to reexamine the needle exchange issue with fresh eyes and a more open mind. The profile of your average junkie has changed drastically with heroin’s seemingly sudden penetration into the leafier suburbs. It’s time to suspend our judgments about addiction and treat opiate abuse as the public health crisis that it is. That means clean needles on demand for addicts.
Senator Joe Vitale, chairman of the Senate Heath Committee is currently working to enhance our state’s meager harm-reduction model for IV drug users. Per Star Ledger, Vitale’s bill “would establish grants to help fund needle purchases, which wasn’t in the original law, and allow other municipalities to open facilities with local approval.”
If you’re reading this article, you know at least one former IV drug user: me, circa 1999-2003. Meth was my drug us choice, but I wasn’t especially discerning. “I’m Jimmy. I’ll take whatever you gimme,” I’d boast to anyone who’d listen. Thankfully, those dark days transpired in another state, one with a robust needle exchange program. That means that, for me anyway, I ended up with clean needles and treatment instead of hepatitis.
We have a heroin crisis in New Jersey. But we also have a crisis of compassion. We’ll know we’ve addressed the latter when we fully embrace all the harm reduction tools at our disposal, especially needle exchange. Sooner the better.
Cunningham’s Irony Tutorial
In a head fake that fooled absolutely no one, Senator Sandra Cunningham, ahem, accidentally introduced Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter as a candidate for NJ Governor: “If you’ve been watching the news, and you’ve heard about who’s running for governor, you may not have heard her, but she announced that she is running for governor. We’ve heard about (Sen. Steven) Sweeney, we’ve heard about (Jersey City) Mayor (Steve) Fulop, we’ve heard about a lot of people. They’re all men, all Caucasian men.”
Assemblywoman Sumter is a rising star in the Democratic Party but it has nothing to do with the stilted identity politics Sen. Cunningham is peddling. Sumter represents the future because she’s young. It’s generational thing, not race or gender. But while we’re on the topic of race and gender, after railing against the “Caucasian middle-aged men” on the shortlist to replace Chris Christie, it’s gonna look awfully ironic when Sen. Cunningham supports a Caucasian, middle-aged man – presumably Sweeney – to be  NJ’s next Governor.
Senator Cunningham is right to point out the lack of diversity in politics. And like her, I’m keen to watch Shavonda Sumter’s bright future unfold. But if Sumter is to become governor or US Senator or NJ Democratic Party chair, she’s gonna need a fresher, more inclusive message than whatever Cunningham’s currently circulating. Of course, Cunningham might be positing Sumter as a complementary, suitable running-mate for whichever Caucasian middle-aged man Cunningham ends up endorsing. Meantime, thanks to Cunningham, Sumter now figures a bit more prominently in this conversation.
Cannabis for Potholes?
What a coincidence! New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is running on fumes at the precise moment our state’s roads and bridges are falling apart. Toss in Trenton’s enduring inability to plug those budget holes and you’ll encounter an intractable quandary: finding a revenue stream to pay for stuff without raising taxes. New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) released a report this week about a potential windfall legalized cannabis might bring, roughly $300,000,000 annually. That wouldn’t solve all NJ’s money problems but it makes the triage process a bit less desperate, don’t you think?
NJUMR’s Ari Rosmarin told PolitickerNJ that, ‘the alignment of social justice and economic opportunity here is rare and remarkable. Legalization for adults will quickly provide an revenue boost to our state while keeping thousands out of our already bloated  and discriminatory and criminal justice system.”
Trenton insider Bill Caruso echoed that sentiment in an email to PolitickerNJ, “whether it is criminal justice reform, access to medicine and treatment or the development of a new industry in our state that would generate many new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for the state, it’s time for NJ to begin to get serious about the discussion regarding marijuana legalization.  I am pleased that there is growing bipartisan support in the legislature for this effort for all the reasons mentioned.”
I tested Caruso’s hypothesis, that support for cannabis reform is a bipartisan affair. The first two GOP legislators I queried off-the-record expressed strong support for ending the war on drugs. A third claimed to be 100% pro-medicinal and “on the fence” for adult recreational use.
“There is momentum for legalization in New Jersey unlike any we’ve seen before.” added NJUMR’s Rosmarin. “Members of the legislature who’ve been sleeping on this issue are finally waking up to the reality that legalization can be done safely and responsibly in a way that can provide a shot-in-the-arm to our economy that’s desperately needed. I’d expect a lot more action on this front in the coming weeks and months. New Jersey is in play and may move more quickly than anyone is expecting.”
Jay Lassiter is a big-mouth iconoclast, tech savvy media artiste, street warrior for LGBT liberty and marijuana reform, and un-intimidated presence in the halls of Trenton power as he aggressively pursues liberal causes. He’s often at brunch and always on Twitter @Jay_Lass