The NJ Democratic Progressive Caucus held a cannabis panel that featured a discussion on social and economic justice, along with homegrow.
The cannabis panel featured State Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth), former State Senate Counsel and lawyer Fruqan Mouzon, Garden State NORML Executive Director Charlana McKeithen, Lt. Dominick Bucci of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), and me representing the Latino Action Network and Heady NJ. It was moderated by Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Michael Hobbs and Doris Lin with John Hsu.
Cannabis Panel Focuses on Implementation
With the referendum polling between 55 and 66 percent, most of the discussion focused on implementing the law.
Singleton said that people cannot assume that the day after legalization passes, they are free to smoke openly. On the contrary, an implementation bill still has to be passed.
“I do think New Jersey’s framework is good, but it could be better,” McKeithen said. She explained that the Illinois, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, and Oakland, California social justice programs are worth examining to implement their best practices.ct
Mouzon explained that as counsel to the State Senate he helped craft S. 2703, which he says contains provisions to foster minority business ownership, and reinvestment in harmed communities via impact zones. There are also set-asides for women and veteran entrepreneurs as well.
Mouzon added that Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) was interested in the idea that conditional licenses could be issued to entrepreneurs who had experience and motivation but lacked capital. Upon winning the license, it would be far easier to raise the necessary money.
Singleton said that Scutari is likely to push the bill in November on one of the days the legislature is scheduled to be in session.
Downey noted she was the prime sponsor of the Jake Honig Act last year that was signed into law in the wake of the failure of broader cannabis reform. Thus, she is an ardent advocate for cannabis reform.
She noted she has spoken to many people who have voiced issues with the problems with the dispensary and the outrageous price.
Singleton raised the idea that the Attorney General or the Governor could issue an order to halt the arrests and trial of cannabis crimes shortly after legalization passes.
Mouzon said that implementation will take less than a year once the bill passes, and Singleton agreed. Others are skeptical about a quick timeline.
Bucci said he was a state trooper for more than 50 years and saw up close from its inception how the War on Drugs has been a failure. He noted law enforcement leaders often pushed increasing arrests.
People have said because S. 2703 excluded felons who have been caught with more than five pounds of cannabis, those in the underground market will not have an avenue to become legitimate. Thus, they will continue selling in the underground market.
Since dealers don’t have to pay the costs of regulatory overhead, street cannabis is generally cheaper than dispensary cannabis.
Bucci endorsed the inclusion of homegrow in implementation since it would help those who have difficulty driving have access to their medicine.
“I’m a firm believer that part of this should be homegrow,” he said. “I know I’m going to get a lot of kickback on that.”
Singleton said if presented with a bill to vote on cannabis that included homegrow, he is generally inclined to vote for it.
Downey, however, was more pessimistic about the inclusion of homegrow in implementation.
“I wouldn’t have an issue either. I just think it’s going to be a tough one,” she said. “It would have to be really lobbied very heavily. People would have to show them why the state could still do well and have their objectives met.”
Mouzon said that the nature of homegrow makes it difficult to regulate, track, and test cannabis for quality. Thus, the lawmakers are not inclined to include it in the implementation bill, which will be difficult to pass in the first place.
Like many insiders, he said it is more feasible to pass homegrow in the future.
Medical Cannabis Issues
Downey said the high cost of medical cannabis has resulted because health insurance does not cover medical cannabis because it is currently a Schedule I substance.
Many noted the poor situation of New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program (NJMMP) since there are only 12 dispensary locations and 92,000 patients in a state of nine million. Thus, if cannabis reform were to be somehow rushed through after it passes, the industry does not have the capacity to serve the industry.
I brought up the issue that the lawsuit against the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) has held up the 24 licenses that were supposed to be rewarded last December, along with the establishment of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which is supposed to regulate adult-use cannabis.
“Unless that’s resolved, nothing happens,” I said.
Mouzon noted that S. 2703 included a provision whereby the existing medical marijuana dispensaries would only be allowed to sell adult-use cannabis if they certified that doing so would not take away from their patient supply.