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Cannabis Social Justice Advocates Still Unhappy with Legalization Bill

Cannabis social justice organizations are still not happy despite attempts to improve the bill to secure sufficient votes by conceding points.

They sent a letter to legislators on how the implementation bill should be amended.  

“Following a spirited campaign centered on the social justice benefits of cannabis legalization with Public Question 1, the people of New Jersey responded overwhelmingly in support, passing the measure at 67% (over 2.7 million NJ residents),” the letter states.

Social Equity Excise Fee to Help Communities

The number one issue in the letter is establishing a “Social Equity Excise Fee on cultivators and direct all revenue from the Social Equity Excise Fee and 70% of cannabis sales tax revenue to community reinvestment and building equitable access to the cannabis industry.

New Jersey’s political leaders agreed to that mechanism and the amount in a deal announced late Friday.

The catch is they want money to go to “job training, education, housing assistance, healthcare, and other services in the communities most harmed by prohibition. Additionally, communities must have meaningful opportunities to weigh in on how the revenue is directed.”

Giving money to public schools has come up as a possible recipient of cannabis tax revenue. It might be a bit of a stretch to say giving money to schools would address the harms created by prohibition versus the other sectors. However, a good argument could likely be made that money is desperately needed for all the categories mentioned above.

Favoring Social Equity Cannabis License Applicants

The second biggest issue is there is no category of “Social Equity Applicant” defined that would give minority entrepreneurs a clear path to a cannabis business license in New Jersey. Instead, the bill uses the term “social and economically disadvantaged” without clearly defining it.

“The Legislature should create a “Cannabis Equity Applicant” status, with eligibility limited to individuals residing in impact zones and those with prior cannabis-related records and their immediate families,” the letter says.

Their third demand is “allow the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans and Women Cannabis Business Development to oversee the allocation of the Social Equity Excise Fee and 70% of cannabis tax revenue designated to community reinvestment in impact zone communities.”

The cannabis social justice advocates argued against a license cap saying, “artificial licensing caps ensure that licenses will be distributed to the well-connected few and limits diversity in ownership and will limit the revenue raised through the Social Equity Excise Fee for community reinvestment.”

Thus, they do not like the 37 licenses cap on large-scale cultivation licenses

For microbusinesses, they said, “To incentivize local entrepreneurship, microbusinesses should be allowed to submit quantity cap increase requests at any time for approval to the Commission. Additionally, microbusinesses should be afforded the opportunity to convert to full-scale cannabis operations after three years from the date the business begins operating.”

The cannabis social justice advocates also want delivery licenses ensured as a specific license category. They said, “to provide economic opportunity for all, meet consumer and patient demand, and eliminate the illicit market, there must be a fair and safe delivery mechanism. This begins with the inclusion of a stand-alone license category.”

Homegrow was not listed among their concerns.

Many Cannabis Social Justice Advocates Endorsing

“To be able to have over 20 organizations come to the table and agree on six social equity initiatives is indicative of their dedication to creating an equitable cannabis industry in New Jersey,” said cannabis advocate and attorney Jessica Gonzalez who spearheaded the letter. “‘We are more than willing to work with the legislature to improve S. 21/A. 21 to make it as equitable as possible for communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition.”

Led by Gonzalez, the cannabis social justice advocates who signed on included the ACLU NJ, the Latino Action Network (whom I represent, full disclosure), Rev. Charles Boyer’s Salvation and Social Justice, Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Progressive Democrats of NJ, Student Marijuana Alliance for Research & Transparency (SMART), Cannademix, the NJ Cannabis Business Association (NJCBA), NJ Policy Perspective, and several pastors throughout New Jersey.

National cannabis social justice advocates like Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM), which Gonzalez serves on the board of along with advocate and businessman Leo Bridgewater signed on as did Women Grow, the Minority Cannabis Association (MCBA), the Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA), Black Cannabis, Cannaclusive, Tahir Johnson of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), and Color of Cannabis, among others.

Along with cannabis social justice advocates, the endorsers include local small businesses Green Passion Industries and CannaContent. It also includes 1906 New Heights, a Multi-State Operator (MSO) interested in doing business in New Jersey, and Weedmaps.

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