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The same week the ballot question passed on Election Day, lawmakers introduced a bill that will launch the marijuana industry to provide guidance for regulations on licensing businesses and products. It did not earmark sales tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales for programs in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Social justice advocates wouldn’t have it, criticizing the bill for the oversight, and lawmakers delayed additional hearings. Murphy administration officials told NJ Advance Media reporters this week that an additional tax on marijuana cultivators will be included in the enabling legislation, ending an impasse over the bill between Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate leaders. Those funds, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, will be directed to those communities.

We’ve compiled here some of the efforts mounted by social justice advocates to ensure language would be included in the final draft of the bill.

The United Black Agenda stands resolute that any legislation that plans to legalize marijuana must repair the communities ripped apart as a result of marijuana prohibition committed in the name of the drug war. Those committed to this movement and the fight for Black lives know that legalization must be done in a racially just way. Taxes from cannabis should be directed towards reparations for the drug war. Anything less enables new methods for more systemic racism – and we refuse to have this happen again.

It is imperative that the state directs a cannabis $42 excise tax (which was in the first legislative version) to repair the harm done by the drug war. That revenue should be used to support vital community-centered services including but not limited to evidenced-based prevention, intervention, community block grants, violence prevention, restorative justice programs, job training, legal aid for civil and criminal cases, health education programs, housing assistance, food assistance, healthcare services, re-entry services, youth recreation or mentoring, and literacy programs. Additionally, it is imperative that the Black and Latino Legislative Caucuses as well as community members direct how the funds get dispersed.

Finally, we demand the following:

  • Discourage the underground market by creating incentives and lower barriers to entry with low tax (or no tax) for those who were convicted. They should be free from paying business taxes for at least as long as they had a conviction on their record.
  • Financial resources to support grants, no-interest loans, and programming to help individuals from impact zones and those with prior cannabis-related criminal records to enter into the cannabis industry or another industry of their choice.
  • Impact Zones should also be redefined to ensure smaller urban areas like Trenton and Camden will qualify.
  • Create an “Equity Applicant” status in the Bill, a designation that covers both impact zone applicants and people with prior cannabis-related criminal records and their immediate family.
  • Expand the 15% of licenses reserved for impact zone applicants to 45% percent of licenses for Equity Applicants in order to accommodate a larger eligibility pool.
  • Ensure that at least 10% of each license class is reserved for Equity Applicants.
  • To qualify as an equity applicant at least 51% of the entity must be owned by applicants with equity status.
  • There must be an updated racial impact analysis which should be done with an economic impact statement. The law should not proceed without demonstrable positive impact on Black communities in arrests, enforcement, and economics.

Richard T. Smith, president of NAACP New Jersey State Conference

Reva Foster, chair of NJ Black Issues Convention

Ryan P. Haygood, president & CEO of New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

Brandon McKoy, president of the New Jersey Policy Perspective

Elise Boddie, founder of The Inclusion Project at Rutgers-Newark

Carolyn Chang, past president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey and Chair of ABWL’s Social Justice Committee

Rev. Eric Dobson, co-convener at Fair Share Housing Center, NJ Black Multi-Faith Alliance

Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, executive director of Salvation and Social Justice, co-convener, NJ Black Multi-Faith Alliance

Mary Pryor, co-founder of CannaClusive

“People make social equity sound like a welfare program and it’s not. There is equity and there is equality. Black and brown have been fighting for equality for hundreds of years,” she told NJ Cannabis Insider from her Jersey City home. “Meanwhile you have a white-male dominated industry that is allowed to profit from cannabis culture cool of consumption, whether it’s hip-hop or Cheech and Chong… There is this misconception that Black and brown people are only consumers and not business people. That is racism.”

Pryor created a petition, calls for certain amount cannabis tax to help communities of color.

New Jersey is gearing up to rush through and pass a non-progressive bill. S-21 does not mention social equity in any format within its 200 plus pages. There is no tax allocation to communities who are harmed by the War on Drugs, no opportunities for Black and Latinx communities to receive funding or business support towards acquiring licenses, lack of start up capital to fund workforce development for social equity applicants, no protections for social equity application against illegal and misleading agreement from corporate cannabis, and no items in place to allow for a equity to be a day one priority upon the launch of the adult-use program in the state.

We cannot let social equity happen after or later. This is not an afterthought. Historically, states and municipalities that do not include #EquityDayOne program fail communities of color when it comes to economic, restorative, and equitable access in the cannabis industry.

Jessica Gonzalez, a New Jersey cannabis attorney and social justice activist

New Jersey had the most successful legalization campaign in the county and as such it has a big opportunity to set the tone for east coast states on the verge of legalizing cannabis.

By excluding key social equity provisions from the proposed legislation, New Jersey is missing out on an opportunity to lead by example in terms of the treatment of those most harmed by cannabis prohibition. Notably the legislation is missing the creation of a social equity program and there is no explicit provision providing for allocation of funds for social equity programming. Without these two key elements that make up the foundation for a strong social equity program, much of the legislation’s good intentions will not serve the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibitions.

There are various mechanisms to strengthen this legislation and I hope legislators are willing to work with cannabis advocates on the ground to enact a law that is justice serving. We must look beyond our borders to learn from the mistakes of other states and capitalize on their successes. We must leverage our late mover advantage.

In a seven-page memo addressed the state Senate and Assembly, the recently form Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) introduced itself with this note:

“Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) is a coalition of government officials appointed and/or selected to lead, manage and oversee the regulatory and policy implementation for legal medical and adult-use cannabis markets across the United States and abroad.

“The members of CRCC represent multiple legal cannabis jurisdictions from across the country, including California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Connecticut and Oklahoma.

“Most importantly, as the leading architects of cannabis equity and policy reform in the United States, our mission is to be a source of information and education for legislators and government agencies that aim to build sustainable cannabis regulatory frameworks that are also designed to deliver on the reparative and restorative potential of the global cannabis legalization and decriminalization movement.”

The recommendations the CCRC offered were in three general areas, Cannabis Tax Revenue Allocations, Cannabis Equity & Justice Program and Medical Cannabis Program Expansion. A portion of the introduction reads:

“While the NJ Bill A21/S21, as introduced, is branded as progressively addressing the cannabis equity and justice issues we’ve outlined, there are still very clear missing elements aligned with the progress already happening in equity centered cannabis policy and regulation. To that end, this memo provides recommendations in support of helping New Jersey to build a diverse, equitable, accessible and sustainable adult-use cannabis industry. Many of these recommendations represent the insights from our collective experiences leading cannabis regulatory framework implementation and amending early cannabis policy reform efforts that had not previously addressed the harms of the war on drugs.”

Founding members:

Dasheeda Dawson, founding chairwoman, Cannabis Program Supervisor at City of Portland, OR

Toi Hutchinson, special adviser to Illinois Governor on Cannabis Control

Rachel Knox, chair, Oregon Cannabis Commission

Erica D. Lindsay, deputy director of Illinois Medical Cannabis Unit

Lanese Martin, commissioner on Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission

Cat Packer, executive director of Los Angles Department of Cannabis Regulation

Nina Parks, chairwoman of San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee

Danielle Perry, Illinois Cannabis Regulatory Oversight officer

Shaleen Title, commissioner on Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission

Chaney Turner, commissioner on Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission

A version of this story originally appeared in NJ Cannabis Insider.

Enrique Lavin is publisher & editor of NJ Cannabis Insider. You may reach him at [email protected]. Find him on LinkedIn.

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