NJ CAN 2020 hosted a cannabis webinar on legalization yesterday afternoon featuring Nick Scutari and many cannabis advocates.
On the cannabis webinar, Governor Phil Murphy said while he has been pushing cannabis since running for Governor in 2017, it took him a while to come around to legalization prior.
Murphy said speaking with State Senate Judiciary Chair Nick Scutari (D-Union) helped change his views on legalization.
A lot of advocates and activists don’t trust Scutari to champion a just implementation bill. Many disliked his bill S. 2703 for being insufficiently comprehensive on addressing criminal justice issues.
“We’ve got to make sure this passes,” Murphy said.
He said it would address racial injustice; a theme touched upon by many.
Scutari and Cannabis
Scutari said he has been championing cannabis reform for ten years. He said many veteran politicians advised him against it.
“I feel confident this ballot measure is going to pass,” Scutari said, citing that nearly two-thirds of people approve of it in some polls.
He said as Union County Democratic Committee (UCDC) Chair, he has been working to push the referendum. Union County said candidates are discussing it while campaigning. Scutari added he has been encouraging colleagues (the Democratic County Chairs) to do that too.
He said minority legislators who are not on board with legalization haven’t done their research on how it will stop the arrests.
This could be interpreted as a swipe against the prohibitionist State Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex), who many blame for holding up legalization last year.
“New Jersey could be the first state in the Northeast, absent Massachusetts,” Scutari said regarding legalization trends.
Many blame Scutari for holding up decriminalization in the year since it was decided that legalization would be on the ballot as cannabis-related arrests have continued with full force.
“Not that I’m against it, but I believe it needs to be legalized from day one,” he said regarding cannabis.
Scutari said decriminalization would not stop police interactions with individuals over cannabis. Nor does it hurt the underground market.
Rice has been pushing decriminalization, which some see as a way to stop full legalization.
“Legalization to me is the full measure to get rid of the police interactions,” Scutari said. “NJ should and will be a leader in the industry.”
Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the ACLU NJ, which is managing NJ CAN 2020, noted cannabis arrests would continue even if the referendum passes.
“It is my intention to include in this legislation a plan to eviscerate all simple charges for marijuana,” Scutari said. “I’d like to see those charges gone.”
Scutari said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal should issue an executive order to cease all arrests before the implementation bill passes.
Advocates have not been happy decriminalization has stalled after it passes the New Jersey Assembly in a week in the wake of the George Floyd/BLM protests.
Voters cannot forget to flip the ballot over since the legalization question is on the back of the ballot.
“We allow cigarette smoking. But we don’t lock people up for that,” Scutari said regarding concerns about the merits of the health benefits of cannabis.
He added Rutgers University could be a leader in cannabis research once legalization passes.
Scutari added the state would save $150 million on cannabis arrests, a theme NJ CAN 2020 is pushing.
Cannabis Webinar Discusses Social Justice Issues
“Cannabis has been used for healing for 5,000 years,” said cannabis attorney Jessica Gonzalez and board member of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM).
“It’s time for New Jersey to turn over a new leaf,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing a lot of my friends arrested for a medicinal plant.”
She added people need to advocate to their legislators to see just legalization implemented.
Cannabis Advocates Make Themselves Heard
Todd Edwards, the political action chair of the NJ NAACP, spoke too. It was noted he was a founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR), the coalition pushing implementation since 2014 with Sinha and noted lobbyist Bill Caruso of Archer Law.
“We don’t want Black and Brown people to be the poster child but not reap the benefits,” Edwards said regarding the need for a just implementation that includes community reinvestment.
“Even prior offenders be able to work and own and operate a dispensary,” he said.
That was not included in S. 2703, which is why NJWeedman and others did not support it.
Chris Beals, CEO of Weedmaps, a company that provides data on existing cannabis markets, said legalization could create 30,000 jobs in the state.
Weedmaps is also a part of NJCAN 2020.
“Legalization at the state level is the first step,” Beals said.
Bill Caruso praised Weedmaps on the cannabis webinar since they have been pushing for legalization in New Jersey for a while.
Caruso, who worked for the Assembly Democrats before becoming a lobbyist, said Trenton a mess of the place. He added Scutari has been honest with the coalition on what is possible or told them to get the votes.
Caruso noted expungement, which has passed and been implemented, but arrests have continued because legalization was not passed.
Garden State Dispensary, Acreage Holdings, the lobbying firm Porzio, Archer Law, and Jackie Cornell of 1906 sponsored the cannabis webinar.