Governor Phil Murphy announced today that Dianna Houenou has been appointed as Chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC).
As expected by insiders, Jeff Brown will be the Executive Director of the CRC.
Houenou, the former ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel, currently serves as Senior Advisor to Governor Murphy.
“I am proud to appoint Dianna Houenou,” Murphy said.
He noted in her role, she has focused on expungement, criminal justice reform, and reform of law enforcement culture.
“Wherever she has worked, she has built a wellspring of trust,” Murphy said.
Houenou was a leader of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR) coalition (of which the Latino Action Network is a member, and I now represent full disclosure) before being appointed as Murphy’s advisor.
The CRC is tasked with carrying out reforms of the state’s cannabis laws, including policies related to undoing social injustices.
“Governor Murphy has made an astute choice by naming Dianna Houenou as chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha.
Before working as a senior adviser in the Murphy administration, Houenou served as a policy counsel at the ACLU of New Jersey, where she worked on cannabis policy with a focus on racial and social justice.
“We are optimistic that Dianna’s leadership and knowledge of the issues will position New Jersey to implement marijuana regulation and reforms with equity and racial justice from the start,” Sinha said.
Advancing Social Justice
“Though your votes marijuana passed here in New Jersey with a margin greater than it has been anywhere on the ballot,” Murphy said.
He added prohibition ruined futures and communities, predominantly those of young Black and Brown men arrested for non-violent offenses. In addition, taxpayers pay $150 million a year to the state to process marijuana arrests.
“Now law enforcement can focus their efforts on more serious and violent crimes,” he said.
Houenou is the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation American who studied at UNC for her bachelor’s and a law degree.
“Diana is quite simply the right person and the right time to create a marketplace that’s equitable, fair, and inclusive of all communities,” Murphy said.
“Together, we fought for the day New Jersey would move away from failed prohibition policies,” Houenou said. “This is just the first step. Now we have put ourselves on the right path.”
“Dianna’s experience in civil rights advocacy at the ACLU-NJ, policymaking, and implementing executive branch priorities gives her insights into cannabis regulation and the stakeholders at the table,” said Sinha.
For those who have been extremely critical of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and its failings from its inception under Christie to the present under Murphy, this is a positive sign of a change.
Brown appointed as Executive Director of the CRC
Murphy said Brown had been Assistant Commissioner since March 2018. Before that, he was a recognized leader in health policy in New Jersey.
Brown said prior to becoming Assistant Commissioner, he was committed to protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It was a personal issue, he said, due to his own Crohn’s disease.
Under him, the New Jersey medical marijuana program has expanded with 700 new prescribing doctors and 2,500 new caregivers and has reached 95,000 patients.
However, there are only seven more dispensaries thus far.
Brown acknowledged the need to expand the market.
“Even in this new role, I will continue to fight so that our medical patients have access,” Brown said.
Murphy noted Brown oversaw an Atlantic City field hospital at the height of the COVID crisis earlier this year.
Brown said he cares deeply about the program and has heard stories of mothers driving across the state for meds for their children’s seizures.
Regarding the details of the CRC’s work, a lot depends on the implementation legislation Murphy acknowledged.
The CRC has been long dormant. Only Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) previously announced his pick of the five seats on the commission. The Speaker o the Assembly gets one pick as well, while Murphy has two more to make.
It previously seemed that a lawsuit holding up the 24 medical cannabis business licenses that were supposed to be announced last December was holding up the appointments as well.