Drug War

New Jersey Has a Law That Makes It a Crime Not to Surrender Your Drugs to Police

President Obama says marijuana shouldn't be a priority for young people, but all the young people whose lives have been ruined by the drug war would disagree.



Fifth Amendment says what? Recently I learned a couple of my students from the days I taught seventh grade English and History in Newark, about a decade ago, have collected rap sheets, almost exclusively related to "controlled dangerous substances," the legal term for drugs. In a recent Vice interview, President Obama told young people legalizing marijuana ought to be low on their list of priorities. Instead Obama suggested young people get interested in the same issues the political class believes the rest of the electorate cares about, or ought to—climate change, the economy, foreign policy. Obama said marijuana belongs "way on the bottom" of the list, if it belongs on it at all.

Obama, of course, ought to know better. And he certainly paid lip service to some of the issues arising from refusing to legalize marijuana. As Jacob Sullum noted last night:

The president is more comfortable criticizing "disproportionate prison sentences." He says "our criminal justice system" is "skewed towards cracking down on nonviolent drug offenders," which has "a terrible effect on many communities, particularly communities of color, rendering a lot of folks unemployable, because they [have] felony records." While "substance abuse…is a problem," Obama says, "locking someone up for 20 years is probably not the best strategy."

Here, Obama ought to know better. Even if he didn't read the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson, surely he read the news stories about it. In Ferguson, there are almost as many arrest warrants as there are residents. No shit. Many of these warrants—how many is not made clear by the DOJ—are for minor traffic infractions. The arrest warrants are largely a product of the police department being used as a revenue collection agency. This is important. A number of the arrest warrants in Ferguson are presumably also for drugs, even for "nonviolent drug offenders." In other jurisdictions, marijuana decriminalization is coupled with new fines for possession, revealing how the drug war, too, is in part a revenue collection exercise.

Keeping marijuana criminalized because people like Barack Obama—rich, affluent elites who have admitted to drug use in their youth—don't think the rest of us can handle making decisions about our bodies also creates ample opportunity for constitutional rights violations. Take this example from the DOJ Ferguson report:

In another case, officers responded to a call about a man selling drugs by stopping a group of six African-American youths who, due to their numbers, did not match the facts of the call. The youths were "detained and ped checked." Officers invoke the term "ped check" as though it has some unique constitutional legitimacy. It does not. Officers may not detain a person, even briefly, without articulable reasonable suspicion.  To the extent that the words "ped check" suggest otherwise, the terminology alone is dangerous because it threatens to confuse officers' understanding of the law. Moreover, because FPD does not track or analyze pedestrian Terry stops [where courts allow cops to briefly detain people under reasonable suspicion when no probably cause exists]—whether termed "ped checks" or something else—in any reliable way, they are especially susceptible to discriminatory or otherwise unlawful use.

Selling drugs, in case you're keeping score at home, is nonviolent. A drug dealer, then, could be considered a nonviolent drug offender too. But one of the grossest systemic rights abuses identified by the DOJ in Ferguson was the reliance on charges like "failure to comply" to produce arrests and crimes. It's not unique to Ferguson. Most local crime stories will include a slew of charges for the alleged criminal even if he's only being accused of one or two actual crimes. "Resisting arrest" is a favorite, creating a Kafka-esque scenario whenever it remains as the only charge after prosecutors have tempered police.

And here's coming back to the insane New Jersey statute that seems, at least to someone without a Harvard law degree, like it ought to be a violation of the constitutional right against self-incrimination. The statute, 2C:35-10C, via njlaws.com:

Any person who knowingly obtains or possesses a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog in violation of subsection a. of this section and who fails to voluntarily deliver the substance to the nearest law enforcement officer is guilty of a disorderly persons offense. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to preclude a prosecution or conviction for any other offense defined in this title or any other statute.

Is there a reason to slap this charge on someone already being charged with possession? This is why the "nonviolent drug offender" canard is a canard. The legal system has plenty of tools for police officers and prosecutors to charge people accused of nonviolent drug offenses as if they actually posed some kind of threat to society. Possession with intent, for example, doesn't require the state to prove an intent to distribute, only to prove that a certain quantity of narcotic was possessed.  The intent is assumed. But because people like Obama insist drugs ought to be treated primarily as a cause of "substance abuse" and not a decision an adult makes about his or her own body, "intent" turns that nonviolent drug offender into someone dangerous, someone local politicians, Republican and Democrat, can use to marshal more support for more policing of just the kind Obama laments, and admits has a significantly disparate impact racially.

To many employers, a criminal record is a criminal record. Some liberals insist the solution is to permit non-violent drug offenders (however you define them) to be able to expunge their records, with hella strings attached. But the solution to all of this is to stop treating adults like children, like they've never left school. Allow them to make decisions about what they want to put into their own bodies, instead of using it as an excuse for a massive jobs program for police, prosecutors, substance counselors, and so on at the expense of mostly young people of the poor, black, and male variety. The president ought to check his privilege before telling young people their priorities ought to be where the political class and its hangers-on can make a buck (climate change, the "economy") and not where young people's freedoms and future income-earning potentials are at stake.

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on Republicans Who Demand More Military Spending

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  1. Keeping marijuana criminalized because people like Barack Obama?rich, affluent elites who have admitted to drug use in their youth?don’t think the rest of us can handle making decisions about our bodies also creates ample opportunity for constitutional rights violations.


    One might think that such elites — at least the progressives — would voluntarily submit to prison time for their youthful indiscretions in the name of “fairnHAHAHAHAHAHAA!! Damn, couldn’t quite get it out!

    1. Fairness isn’t for them – it’s for everyone else. Just like with everything else Progressives believe they are smarter and wiser than everyone else and the rules, regulations, and laws they make are for our own good – the average person doesn’t have the intelligence, wisdom, and academic pedigree to regulate and navigate his/her own life, including how long to spend in the shower… http://www.foxnews.com/politic…..in-shower/

      1. You know who else monitored how long people spent in the shower?

        1. The guys in Porky’s?

        2. The kind of parents who would admonish their children for holding the refrigerator door open for too long?

          1. No wait – it’s robots, correct?

      2. I’ve said this before. I would cut every departments budget by 10% every year until I stop reading articles like this.

    2. The deference shown government agents (president, senators, representatives, et al) in these interviews is frustrating. I wish just once, the follow up question would be something like, “so now that you’re in power, your hypocrisy has increased to the point where you can utter such mendacious crap?”

  2. “the drug war, too, is in part a revenue collection exercise.”

    And a pretense for keeping the boot on our necks, thus Obumbles suggestion that legalizing MJ should be low on the priorities list. This despite legalization being one of the biggest steps we could take as a victory for liberty in this country. The political class, from top to bottom, will resist at all cost. We are gonna have to force their hand.

    Also, Ed, please slap yourself and then remove or alter this phrase: “The president ought to check his privilege…”. Do not use SJW language. Ever.

    1. “The president ought to check his privilege”

      I found it quite amusing to turn the SJW phrase on Teh Lightworker.

    2. ” This despite legalization being one of the biggest steps we could take as a victory for liberty in this country”

      It’s not in spite of for them. It’s because of.

    3. It’s in the lexicon now. Deal.

    4. “This despite legalization being one of the biggest steps we could take as a victory for liberty in this country.” That would be a drawback, not a feature.

  3. OT: Europeans – still economic retards

    “Austerity”? Call me when you’re reduced to eating “roof rabbit” and then we’ll talk.

    1. The last time I saw true European “austerity” was when I was in Sarajevo in 1997 and someone mentioned the pigeons were starting to come back…having almost all been eaten during the siege.

  4. Eddie, you don’t even broach the thing your headline refers to until the sixth paragraph of your post.

    1. Good morning!

      1. I heard you say that in this voice, and I hate you for it.

        1. “Good morning, get in my van, I just cleaned the blood out of it.”

        2. I think you’ve been tubed, dear.

      2. Go have a cup of coffee and take journalism 101 again.

  5. It would be fascinating to have some drug warrior who admits to using alcohol undergo a public interview.

    “Do you mean to tell us, Special Agent, that you *voluntarily* *habitually* drink a braincell-killing poison to *purposefully* alter your consciousness and lower your inhibitions? *You*, who have ***snort*** “solemnly” sworn to uphold the Constitution?!”

  6. If you wanted to decrease the % of people unjustly imprisoned, you could release all present inmates and jail all politicians.

  7. Turning over contraband is testimonial. We have this little thing we like to call the 5th Amendment. There is no way a conviction on this statute would be upheld on appeal. The prosecutors have to know that. So, I doubt it is charged very often. My guess is that it is used as a threat and as leverage in plea bargaining. If I the possession case is weak or the defense has a good shot at winning a suppression motion, the DA offers a plea to this, which is no doubt a much less serious conviction than a possession and certainly a distribution offense. Since waiving your appeal is a condition of plea bargaining, the fact that it is a completely unconstitutional statute never matters.

    That sucks I know. But that is probably how it works.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it sounds right.

      It would be nice if NJ had a governor who respected the Constitution…[giggle]…darn, tried to keep a straight face.

    2. Thanks for the explanation. What a wicked practice.

    3. I hate to break it to you, but this is not true. Courts have narrowly interpreted what communications are covered by the 5th Amendment, and they are generally limited to those which delve into the personal thoughts of the suspect. Breathalyzer results and blood samples are non-testimonial, so drugs would almost certainly be as well. You may have a 4th Amendment claim, but likely not a 5th.

      1. Surrendering drugs to the police, unless they have some kind of amnesty program for this purpose, involves telling the police you have drugs. You can’t do one without the other. That isn’t considered being compel;led to testify against oneself?

  8. My example above is why these sorts of laws need to come off the books and why we can’t rely on courts to not enforce them. During the 13 Virginia governor’s race Cuccinelli got in all kinds of trouble for once saying the Virginia sodomy statute ought not to be repealed. It was a really loathsome idea on his part but not for the reason his nitwit critics said. The criticism was “oh my God he wants to go back to jailing the sacred homos!!”. That is not what he was saying. What he was saying was in some ways much worse. His point was that the statutes should remain on the books so that they can be used as a tool to plea bargain with accused sex offenders so that the government gets some kind of conviction on more of them. The idea was if we can’t prove these perverts are sex offenders, we need a lesser charge available to let them pled to so we get something. In other words, keep this law on the books so DAs can convict people who should otherwise be acquitted of something.

    1. Yet you don’t trust judges to take laws off the books. Interesting.

      1. The appeals courts would. At the trial level, a judge would have to refuse to accept the plea bargain on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. That is not likely to happen. Judges like plea bargains because it gets the case off of their books. They also generally don’t like to see people get screwed. If a judge turns down a plea bargain, the government will go forward on the more serious charge and the defendant might end up with a lot harsher punishment because of it. Most judges are loath to force someone do risk that when the government is happy to let them plead to a lesser offense. So what happens is these laws live a kind of zombie existence as guilty pleas.

        If you would bother to read the post rather than bitching and moaning about some argument you lost yesterday, you would realize what I am talking about and how it doesn’t have anything to do with how good or bad judges are.

        1. Argument that I lost?


          You had to resort to Ton-style fallacious reasoning to “win” because you’re a stubborn ass who digs in his heals when everyone knows you’re wrong. Frankly it’s embarrassing to watch. Sad. So very sad.


          1. *Tony-style*

            where’s the damn edit button?

            1. You are yelling about Tony. Yeah, you lost it alright.

              1. No, child. When you use fallacious arguments then I’m going to point them out and compare you to Tony because that’s what he does.

              2. Stomping your feet and saying “I win! Nanny nanny boo boo!” when someone points out the fallacies in your argument is not winning, Tony. Oops. I meant John. It’s hard to tell with all those fallacies.

          2. *heels*


          3. You are still whining about it. So yeah, I would say you lost.

            1. You’re so smug you deserve to host a show on MSNBC.

        2. You “won” by insisting that no policy is policy, which is like saying silence is sound or darkness is light. Tony has made that exact same argument before.

          Then you insisted that proving something is not justified by the Constitution is not proving a negative, when proving something is not something is the definition of proving a negative.

          You didn’t “win” anything. You just spouted out some fallacies as you dug in your heels like a petulant child.

          I assume that you don’t care if anyone respects you, because you seem to be going out of your way to get people to lose any respect they might have for you.

  9. who fails to voluntarily deliver the substance to the nearest law enforcement officer is guilty

    It’s like those politicians don’t know what “voluntarily” means.

    1. They know. It’s like the voluntary social service required to graduate from high school.

  10. These laws also keep the drug rehab money train rolling. H

  11. Damn it,it submitted while I was typing.Any way,how many people arrested for pot are really addicts? I’d say very few,and yet they will be herded in rehab of some sort..It’s like making every person that has a couple beers every that having to join A.A.

    1. It’s like making every person that has a couple beers every that having to join A.A.

      *** rising intonation ***

      Sounds like *someone* could use an intervention.

      1. No,I need a beer the evening ,coffee isn’t getting it.I need to prof read too!

        1. Proofreading is impossible when one is fucked up, brutha.

    2. No government is free from the worst addiction known to the human race; the use of violence to negate individual choice. Nothing in society is more addicting and more insidious. Brutality through the smiling councils…

  12. How can Obama have privilege? He’s only half white.

    1. More specifically, he’s half black. Having any black in your lineage obliterates any ‘privilege’ – it’s the nuclear bomb of privilege. Any other mix of ethnicities – and well, just check your privilege.

  13. I like the passion, Ed.

    Prohibitionists should never be the only ones pounding people with their tongues. Brazen truth is superlative and requires the sweep of energy to gather and dissipate the many moral falsehoods plied by white-lipped social tyrants who muscle their decay with violence.

  14. I just want to point out that Rahway (err, East Jersey) State Prison has been red for years. Update yo picture, son.

  15. Instead Obama suggested young people get interested in the same issues the political class believes the rest of the electorate cares about, or ought to?climate change, the economy, foreign policy.

    I’m guessing young people may be interested in policies that can be meaningfully changed.

    But Obama was talking to Vice, and Vice does a fuckton of breathless reporting on Global Warming Climate Change, so I suspect he knew is audience.

  16. The problem with letting people do what they want, is that people sometimes want something that harms them (cars, alcohol, guns,cigarettes, etc.). This causes society to go into overdrive, spending thousands of dollars to get them healthy, get them cured, get them clean, get them to stop bleeding all over the sidewalk. Maybe we should have a national campaign to convince people to let them go to Hell in their own handbasket. Billboards all over saying “LTGTHITOH! No, dammit, I won’t give you a hand up!”, or “Have you ever thought that maybe God really does hate you?” Boy, that would make libertarians popular with people I don’t want to be popular with.

  17. If the president had a MJ arrest. He wouldn’t be president.
    So, yes, legalization is a big deal.

    Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

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