Cannabis reform sponsors Assembly members Anette Quijano (D-Union) and Jamel Holley (D-Union) are being challenged by progressive NJ cannabis home grow supporters in the 20th Legislative District (LD) Democratic primary.
Aissa Heath and Ricky Castaneda are running for the Assembly seats. Jason Krychiw is challenging Holley in his bid to oust incumbent Senator Joe Cryan (D-Union).
LD 20 comprises Elizabeth, Union Twp, Roselle, and Hillside in Union County, NJ.
While there has been talk of social justice motivating the cannabis reform legislation’s sponsors, language to make the cannabis industry just was included as amendments only after a massive backlash from Rev. Charles Boyer and the ACLU NJ, among others.
NJ cannabis home grow was never seriously considered by the legislators despite many advocates, activists, entrepreneurs, and patients testifying in favor of it.
Krychiw is a scientist, educator, and Vice-Chair of Progressive Democrats of New Jersey. Heath is a Data Analyst in Education and Tech and is involved with the Progressive Democrats NJ, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) North Jersey, and Union County Mutual Aid. Castaneda is a Rutgers Newark student, a retail worker, and active in the Progressive Democrats of Union County and Rutgers Progressive Democrats.
As a scientist, Krychiw is critical of Holley, who is actively courts anti-vaxxers despite the millions of deaths and the lives hurt and ruined by COVID-19.
Progressive Cannabis Reform
Krychiw noted that Cryan was a hindrance to full legalization and supported Ron (Rice D-Essex). He is also unhappy about the great impasse.
“We passed this in November as a state; this bill was in the legislature two or three years ago. To have these clean-up bills, legislators scrambling around. Really, it’s been years,” he said.
“It’s just frustrating a lot of the legislators are using these really specific sticking points to delay the issues,” he added. “I’d vote for the bill in its current format. Every day we’re not passing something people are getting arrested.”
“The longer we’re delaying, we’re delaying the will of the voters,” Heath said.
“After all these discussions, the first thing we were hearing about the legislation, it’s (cannabis tax revenue) is going to go back into policing somehow,” she said.
Regarding a just industry, Heath said cannabis business license distribution needs to be more equitable. She also chafed at the limit imposed on the number of large-scale cultivators. Heath is not the only one.
Supporting NJ Cannabis Home Grow
“If people don’t have access to these markets, at least let them grow, there’s a lot of people with a disability that may not have means, mobility to buy, can grow at home,” she said.
Heath said she would support legislation establishing a grants program for entrepreneurs, a cannabis job training program, and help ex-convicts find affordable housing.
Castaneda said he would vote yes on the cannabis reform bills or a potential clean-up bill in the full chamber.
“(Governor Phil) Murphy wanted to criminalize young people for possession. For someone who someone calls himself a progressive governor, that’s not progressive, extracting cash from them for petty fines,” Castaneda said.
Regarding progressive cannabis reform legislation, he said he supports NJ cannabis home grow and keeping the price down for consumers.
Krychiw noted Cryan was the Union County Sheriff before becoming a State Senator, which means he saw first-hand the devastation the War on Drugs has caused on black and brown communities.
Running against incumbents is especially hard in New Jersey.
“Scutari decides who’s on the line,” Heath said.
She noted that lead cannabis reform sponsor Senator Nick Scutari is the Union County Democratic Chair. In that position, he decides who becomes the Democratic nominee for offices in Union County. Scutari then persuades the county committee to support them. Establishment-backed candidates win primaries the vast majority of the time. It is hard to win a contested seat on most New Jersey Democratic County committees if you are against the establishment.
Union County is a politically continuous place. Scutari has been battling Linden Mayor Derek Armstead in court most recently. He represents nearby LD 22 in the State Senate. It is composed of Clark, Fanwood, Linden, the City of Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains, and Winfield Township in Union County, Dunellen and Middlesex Borough in Middlesex County; Green Brook Twp. and North Plainfield in Somerset County.
“We’ve run for office before, seen Jason and I. People are getting more politically active, pushed for people to be on the Union County Democratic Committee UCDC,” Heath said.
Fighting the Political Machine
Krychiw noted Cryan is the Union Twp Democratic Chair. He explained in 2019, “me and a group of people ran off the line from the UCCC. 15 of us ended up winning.”
Krychiw noted it was the largest offline victory that year.
He was also a campaign leader that won three Board of Education seats in Union against candidates supported by Cryan.
“I’ve gone up against Joe Cryan, and I’ve beaten him before,” Krychiw said. “I have no doubt we can beat them again.”
Krychiw also ran for council twice and lost by slim margins.
Heath ran for Freeholder (now called County Commissioner) in the primary last year. She was on the “Not me, us” ticket. It was a slate of Berniecrats, with Larry Hamm for US Senate and Hector Oseguera for Congress.
While they lost, Heath said she received 14,000 votes, which gave her significant name recognition.