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Archive for the ‘Individual Rights’ Category

The New Jersey Department of Health is now signing up patients for the state’s newly minted medical marijuana program. The state law that established the framework for the program (N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1, et seq.) was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in the last days of his outgoing administration, in early 2010. As LT has noted, the program has since been implemented with painful slowness by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, and has also been subjected to a broad array of land-use obstacles from municipal authorities, as well. (Viz., although six dispensaries have been approved, in theory, only two have yet secured retail space: one in Montclair; and another in Egg Harbor, which is near Atlantic City.)

Update, 8/26: A third location has been secured on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge.

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Forbes is back on the case of how the aggregation of local land use regulations can distort metropolitan land markets, creating barriers to entry in agglomeration economies, and possibly even slowing economic growth by depriving such economies of desperately needed new blood. This closely follows some of the insights that Ryan Avent hit on, last year, in The Gated City.

To the list of grievances against overzoning, I would add the appalling inequity of making entire metropolitan regions effectively off-limits to the middle and working classes, to the young, and to those who have children– including so many of those regions’ own long-time residents. Government and academic research have almost completely dodged the question about what has driven the massive, native-born out-migration from places like California and the Northeast– and whether this migration has been truly voluntary. To hear the press coverage, millions of stupid people have eagerly given up their proximity to friends, family, and relatively stronger economies in order to snap up cheap, new houses in Godforsaken places. I’m cynical, but not that cynical.

The truth is that housing costs have been forcing people out, and it is apparent that the labor forces in those cities that have been abandoned by the US-born working class have been steadily replaced by migrant workers who see being crowded and overworked in an American city as an improvement. On a long-term basis, this is not a sustainable arrangement. But the ultimate challenge is in overcoming the myopic politics of municipal government, writ large, that resists even the most modest changes to existing land use patterns. I really appreciate that Forbes is keeping up on this story. I feel like this is a drum that needs to be beaten until the harm of overzoning becomes clichéed.

Back in the 1970s, in a harbinger of what has come, the New Jersey Court addressed the issue of what was then called exclusionary zoning in its first Mount Laurel decision. In 1983, Justice Pashman described the specific land use devices that were resulting in the wholesale exclusion of market uses in his concurrence to the second Mount Laurel decision. In those days, only the housing markets for poor and working-class people had been strangled. By the 90s and 2000s, the suburban middle class was starting to get screwed. Today, Silicon Valley and Forbes are complaining. Maybe now it becomes an issue.

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The Guardian has an interactive chart depicting the complicated palette of civil rights legislation that affects same-sex couples in different American states. I thought it was interesting (in the calamari ice cream sense of the word) to see, diagrammatically, just how many shades of gradation comprise the broader issue of equal rights for same-sex couples, besides the capstone rights-bundle of full marriage equality. Along with drug laws, capital punishment, and eminent domain, this set of topics really illustrates both the promise and the pitfalls of accepting a more federalist approach to nationally controversial (but regionally more settled) topics.

On one hand, the states with more liberal legislatures have gone a long way toward legal equality for same-sex couples– and nobody would dream of seeing such meaningful legislation come out of the U.S. Congress. By authorizing gay marriage legislatively, as New York and several other states have done, these legislatures have invested their policies with a depth of democratic legitimacy that would not automatically flow from court decisions, at any level, that mandated similar results. So, in a sense, this divergence from the national norm represents a healthy opportunity to maximize the advancement of civil-rights objectives in friendly political climates, democratically, on an ad hoc basis.

On the other hand, you have blue-ish states like Pennsylvania, where even legislation to protect the rights of same-sex partners to visit one another in a hospital has not been forthcoming, presumably because of the conservative dynamic of statewide politics. If you view the United States as a federation of state polities, rather than as a single national polity, then it might be fairly easy to say: Well, let Mississippi have its own laws; we’ll do things our way in the Northeast. But a case like Pennsylvania’s brings the complicated question of such federalism (I think) into starker relief.

That is, as citizens of a federal system, how do we deal with the historical legal land boundaries that have ensnared comparable local polities within political jurisdictions– the states– that now have very different power constellations? Should we simply tolerate that, for the time being, the civil rights of an individual in Philadelphia will be far fewer than those of the same individual in New York City or Boston? Should we push for reform in Harrisburg and every other state capital, while implicitly tolerating that the same individual in Oxford, Mississippi will likely have to endure a much longer and more doubtful slog  toward his own eventual legal equality? Or, since these are fundamental civil rights matters, should we push for a national policy which inherently invites the possibility of an ugly national backlash or an eventual national policy that constrains the scope of more favorable local approaches?

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Crashing the System

Here’s a provocative op-ed piece from Saturday’s Times, by Michelle Alexander. The gist of the article is that a new civil rights movement could be built around a simple form of protest: a wider demand for jury trials. Given the speed at which the system operates under its present crush of cases, it’s not hard to imagine the gridlock that could ensue from a sudden and significant uptick in trial demands. Would it be enough to force an examination of the prison-industrial complex?

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The Compassionate Care Foundation dropped its suit against the zoning board of Westampton Township, New Jersey. In the latest episode of the medical marijuana story, the group’s attorney tells the Star-Ledger that the organization has found a new site in the shore town of Egg Harbor, in Atlantic County. But, the state health department still has to issue another permit, or something, before things can go forward there. I guess we’ll see.

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