social equity cannabis

John Bailey of the organization Black Cannabis led a policy discussion webinar on social equity in the industry in New Jersey.

“We’re at an interesting time New Jersey, as we always are,” Assistant Commissioner of Medical Marijuana Jeff Brown said, noting we’re “on the precipice of something great here. Once the politics are ironed out, we’ll be moving full speed ahead.”

Brown said they want to hold another Request for Applications (RFA) soon and another shortly after that.

“Our work is not done on medical cannabis,” Brown said, adding we need more businesses and more competitive prices for patients.

He noted that Arizona could open their adult-use market already when they legalized when New Jersey did because they had a robust medical cannabis program.

“We have a different landscape here,” Brown said. Arizona had pro-cannabis Republicans running the state, unlike New Jersey.

Brown said he wanted to work with the industry, the community, “and all of the stakeholders to ensure New Jersey is the best cannabis market on the East coast if not the country.”

He noted there are now more than 102,000 patients and 500,000 plants being grown.

The Politics of Social Justice

“When the original was first discussed, there was no mention of social justice. There was no mention of social equity,” Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) said, referring to legislation introduced by Senator Nick Scutari (D-Union).

He explained the Black Caucus fought for social equity, saying, “We tried to get all those ideas in.

“I believe it will get better as the industry continues to roll out,” Holley said.

“We’re far away from when we first started,” Holley said, noting progress made in S. 21 and S. 2535 bills unsigned.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex, Mercer, Somerset, Hunterdon) said that without the Black Caucus, “we wouldn’t even be at the place where we are now,” in terms of social equity.

“This is not and should not be a Black issue. Social justice, in the end, is doing right by all. The default position… is that this is really helping large corporations,” he said. “It’s going to take constant vigilance,” he said to ensure social equity.

“As of Nov. 3rd, the voters of New Jersey made the conversations singular. Social justice, economic parity, and commerce discussions should no longer be mutually exclusive,” said NJ Cannabis Business Association (NJCBA) President Ed DeVeaux.

He pointed there are various licenses companies can apply for in terms of delivering, consumption lounges, cultivation, manufacturing, and retail.

In Massachusetts, Bailey said the government proposed a delivery regulation that would help small businesses, and the industry is against it.

“Many of the licensees don’t want to share,” he said.

Bailey noted Colorado broke $2 billion in adult-use sales last year but still needs to be forced to create social equity opportunities.

“No one willingly gives up their resources,” he added.

“We still don’t have a legalization scheme even though voters voted yes in November and the constitution was amended in January. We still need the Governor and the legislature to act,” said ACLU Executive Director Amol Sinha, who has led the legalization coalition (where I represent the Latino Action Network, full disclosure).

Sinha noted Newark is on track to make more arrests in 2021 than in 2020.

“It helps nobody to have children in the criminal legal system,” he added, referring to the impasse on cannabis. “We don’t want intoxicated kids, but we don’t want to have it where we have a product out there for adults yet severely criminalized for children.”

Sinha said he did not want arbitrary limits on cultivation licenses. The enabling legislation limits New Jersey to 37 large-scale growers, including those who already possess a license. It does not cap micro growing licenses, though.

Creating Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry

The problems surrounding New Jersey’s cannabis licenses were then discussed.

“We have really got to turn away from this model of creating access through a flawed grading system for applicants,” DeVeaux said.

DeVeaux cited Oklahoma and Massachusetts as viable models “where you’re not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with little chance of being successful.”

“If you got money for a permit, let’s allow the municipalities and county commissioners (formerly known as freeholders) to do what they do and approve local businesses,” DeVeaux said.

Pure Genesis CEO Faye Coleman said NJ cannabis license applicants spent hundreds of thousands of dollars only to be disqualified for lack of a signature.

Coleman said her company is offering 30 percent of their jobs to felons and provides skills training and profit-sharing. While they currently have six business streams, they want a plant-touching license.  She said Pure Genesis is affectionately referred to as a “unicorn” because there are so few black woman-owned cannabis businesses.

“You’re not by yourself New Jersey,” said Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM) founder Roz McCarthy said regarding the state’s social equity issues.

McCarthy said that lawmakers are often reluctant to include social equity in legislation. When they do, there is often no enforcement method.

“The state of New Jersey already has a medical program that doesn’t meet the expectations of communities of color,” she said.

Bailey wanted to create a report card to hold the cannabis industry accountable on social equity metrics. McCarthy said she is not a good person to be in charge of a report card because she wants a cannabis license, a conflict of interest.

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