3/30/20 By DAN ULLOA
Will Cunningham is running to be the Democratic nominee in the New Jersey Second Congressional District because he strongly believes in progressive reform, including changing cannabis laws.
“I am running for Congress because we need regular people in Congress who understand the struggles of working families. South Jersey is home to the poorest counties in the state, the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, and the highest unemployment,” Cunningham said. “One of the best ways to serve underserved communities is to legalize cannabis. The importance of legalization with social justice can not be overstated. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I want to be a part of getting it right”.
Cunningham grew up in Vineland where his family has lived spanning five decades. He had a rough upbringing that included being briefly homeless while in high school. Yet he excelled. He went to Brown University and then graduated from University of Texas Law School. Afterward, he worked for Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate and then the House Oversight Committee.
“My work on the House Oversight Committee resulted in national policy changes,” he said regarding his time with the Oversight Committee and its Chairman, the late Elijah Cummings.
Cunningham first ran for Congress in 2018 to be the Democratic congressional nominee in New Jersey Second Congressional District in a primary against Jeff Van Drew, a conservative State Senator from Cape May at the time.
“That was before Van Drew came out as actually being a Trump-Mar A Lago Democrat,”. Cunningham said. On December 19, 2019, Van Drew switched parties with an Oval Office announcement.
Cunningham regards Van Drew and his record with disdain. While a New Jersey State Senator representing Cape May, he had a conservative voting record.
“For me, I saw how problematic he was even when he was in my party,” Cunningham said, noting he voted against the minimum wage increase.
Changing Cannabis Laws
Cunningham fully believes in changing cannabis laws for legalization. He explained that he understands the social justice aspect of reform. He has lived through and been touched by the inequities of cannabis law enforcement. Cunningham’s relatives have convictions for marijuana possession.
“We need to be honest about how targeted enforcement of cannabis has ravaged communities of color. Kids haven’t had parents because of marijuana convictions. You start with communities hardest hit. Those people need to be released from jail and get records expunged. And that’s how you start to create a criminal justice system that’s fair,” Cunningham said.
He noted the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill last November, the MORE Act which was the first bill in American history to seek erase criminal records caused by the War on Drugs. If signed into law, it would fundamentally change cannabis law in the United States. The MORE Act is one of Cunningham’s priorities.
“The federal government should be incentivizing this new industry to promote its growth. If we cannot get full legalization with social justice on the federal level, we need to address Schedule I barriers, and now most importantly banking reform.” Cunningham said in reference to the SAFE Banking Act. “It has already passed Pelosi’s House. The Senate should get it done, if only to create employment.”
Cunningham also voiced support for changing cannabis law via the ballot referendum this November 3rd.
“I think it will pass. Polls shows increasingly cannabis is not a controversial point in New Jersey,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham sees changing cannabis laws as a means to create entrepreneurial opportunities that would revitalize the economy. Cunningham has been working with the Red Cross to address the spread of COVID-19 and is acutely aware of the employment hardships many in South Jersey have already begun to experience due to the crisis.
“We need to support this job creating cannabis industry now more than ever,” he said.
Cunningham endorsed homegrow, saying “I think we need to develop a robust system of regulations that brings those folks into the fold. We have to have guidelines to ensure small businesses that homegrown products comply with safety standards to assure and protect consumers. With that in place, I am all for craft cannabis.”
Primary Race Competition
Cunningham entered the race shortly after Montclair professor Brigid Harrison and Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett, who has since dropped out. Harrison is running on a strong pro-cannabis platform in contrast to Amy Kennedy. West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III and former FBI Agent Robert Turkavage are also running.
Amy Kennedy is married to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy who is promoting prohibitionists across the country with the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Cunningham said Amy Kennedy is in favor of cannabis prohibition.
Politico revealed that the Kennedys were being funded by drug companies who profit from opioid addiction. Amy sits on the board of Interaxon which makes headbands to help addicts meditate. The Kennedys are also invested in alcohol addiction treatment which cannabis gravely threatens as a safe consumption alternative. Many individuals in recovery are effectively treated with clinical cannabis which directly threatens less effective treatment methods where the Kennedys are invested. This raises many red flags regarding Kennedy’s candidacy.
Cannabis is a point of major difference in this congressional primary race for Cunningham, “I think having a young black millennial, an Ivy Leaguer with a law degree makes a difference. My life experience brings gravitas. The Kennedys are millionaires who have circumvented taxes for decades with the use of trusts. They are prohibitionists. Are they actually in touch with anything happening to anyone in Atlantic, Cumberland, Cape May, Salem County, and the greater South Jersey region? I think not.”