The spirited protest outside the front door of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, where nearly 150 demonstrators bashed NJ Governor Chris Christie for scandalous obstruction of the state’s medical marijuana law, featured the presence and participation of the youngest offspring of two of the most legendary stars in reggae music history.
That 4/20 demonstration against Christie’s restrictive implementation of NJ’s medical marijuana law and against the governor’s opposition to legalization or even decriminalization of marijuana, included remarks by Makeda Marley, the youngest daughter of reggae legend Bob Marley and by Jawara McIntosh, youngest son of reggae luminary Peter Tosh.
Marley and Tosh, members of the immortal ‘Wailers’ reggae band, were both vocal advocates for marijuana. Both men integrated their support for marijuana into their song lyrics, as in Tosh’s 1976 hit, “Legalize it!’ Marley and Tosh practiced the Rastafarian religion, which embraces the spiritual use of marijuana.
“It’s time to stop the hypocrisy,” Jawara McIntosh said after singing a few verses of his father’s still popular “Legalize It.”
“It’s Ok to smoke cigarettes that can kill you but you can’t smoke marijuana that can heal your body and spirit,” McIntosh said, adding, “Keep speaking word to power. My father was a great believer in the power of the word.”
Advancing a similar political engagement theme, Makeda Marley urged the multi-racial, inter-generational demonstrators to do more to hold governments accountable.
“It’s time to fight for our rights,” Marley said.
A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 48 percent support for marijuana legalization among New Jersey voters, with legalization support reaching 56 percent among voters aged 18-29. Forty-one percent of the participants in that poll admitted to having smoked marijuana. “Like my father said, “Get Up Stand Up” for your rights.”
Flamboyant anti-pot prohibition activist Ed Forchion, better known as NJ Weedman, organized the Sunday 4/20 protest in NJ’s capital city. Forchion reminded the protestors of the history-making presence of Marley and McIntosh.
Typical of 4/20 protests, at 4:20pm Forchion led many of the protestors in a ‘smoke out’ of marijuana, albeit smoking the illegal substance a short distance from the Statehouse. Forchion purposely moved the protestors off state property as not to defy the state troopers monitoring the main Statehouse protest site.
And typical of Forchion’s flair for tactical theatrics, the Easter Sunday protest included a season-specific prop: a cross constructed of fencing posts festooned with a giant marijuana leaf. Forchion and other protestors took turns carrying that cross during a march from Trenton’s train station to the Statehouse that included a stop in front of the federal courthouse.
Forchion’s dozen-plus years of anti-pot prohibition activism has included crucifixion-like imprisonments and other deprivations and harassment by governmental entities. Forchion was arrested once for lighting a marijuana ‘joint’ inside the Statehouse legislative chamber.
But Forchion is not alone in being targeted by the state’s law enforcement establishment. Makeda Marley has faced prosecution for growing marijuana. And Jawara McIntosh is awaiting prosecution for possession/sale of marijuana.
McIntosh’s lawyer, Ralph Smith, told protestors that his client’s arrest arose from racial profiling by police in a northern NJ county. Smith termed McIntosh’s arrest “Driving While Dread” (referencing McIntosh’s dreadlocks) a twist of the term DWB – Driving While Black.
“The prison-industrial complex in New Jersey is similar to a slave system. Police are trolling the streets to arrest black and brown people,” Smith alleged. “It is outrageous that the son of an icon is facing ten years in jail.”
Blacks in NJ are three times more likely to face pot possession arrest than whites despite both races using the substance in equal proportion to population, according to a June 2013 report by the national ACLU. That report noted the $127-million per year spent in NJ on marijuana law enforcement. When NJ State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) introduced a measure in March to legalize marijuana he cited that enforcement expenditure as wasteful.
NJ Governor Chris Christie, a conservative Republican who harbors presidential aspirations, recently renewed his opposition to legalization of marijuana and even the lesser step of decriminalization, eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Christie has said.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released in November 2011 registered a 58 percent approval in NJ for reducing penalties on marijuana, up from 40 percent approval in 1972 poll results. That poll also recorded 86 percent support for medical marijuana in NJ. A Monmouth University poll released in recent weeks recorded a 48 percent support in NJ for legalization of marijuana with 60 percent of adults considering alcohol and tobacco more hazardous than marijuana.
Former federal prosecutor Christie, tarnished now by the on-going Bridgegate Scandal, has back-pedaled on his stance against child access to a non-intoxicating marijuana extract that has proven effective in the treatment of a rare form of epilepsy. Christie’s change followed widespread criticism of his curt response to pleas from a mother whose young child had died from that epilepsy.
The Christie Administration’s obstructionism on medical marijuana is a scandal that hasn’t burst into national news yet, but seems likely to. Ken Wolski, Executive Director of NJ’s Coalition for Medical Marijuana, told the Statehouse protestors that NJ’s medical marijuana program is “somewhere between dysfunction and a failure” due to repeated roadblocks erected by Christie.
The wife of a top Christie staff member heads NJ’s Department of Health, the agency charged with implementing the medical marijuana law that was approved weeks before Christie took office in January 2010. While Christie has denied hands-on management to evade his responsibility for Bridgegate, Wolski said Christie’s mishandling of medical marijuana is fraught with “top down” management, with the Health Department receiving its “marching orders” from the Governor’s Office.
“We feel there is no good faith from the Christie Administration, due to one obstruction and one delay after another,” Wolski said. “It is a crying shame to deny so many people access to a medical therapy. So many are suffering and dying needlessly.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.