Jay Lassiter is a long-time NJ cannabis activist and LGBT rights advocate. June is Pride Month and a perfect time to get Lassiter’s perspective on the issues.
“Sometimes it feels like, oh my God I can’t believe how much progress we’ve made! Other times it feels like it’s taken forever,” Lassiter said about the journey. “Sometimes even on the same day. It’s rewarding and challenging still,” he said.
“I’ll give Phil Murphy some credit. It has become easier to get into the program,” he said.
But even that has its side effects. It has made the lines longer when that was always an issue. Lassiter said it was almost like going backward.
Progress on Cannabis
Cannabis policy and politics have changed greatly since Lassiter first became involved as an NJ cannabis activist. The first rally he went to was organized by a guy he had a crush on, and the attendees were mainly HIV-positive.
“Pot rallies in the early 90s centered on the AIDs crisis,” Lassiter said. “It was a direct response to the sick and dying queer. Dead queers gave us medical marijuana in America,” he said.
Lassiter went to California in the mid-90’s when medical marijuana was gaining popularity.
He went to medical marijuana leader Dennis Peron’s dispensary in San Francisco. At the time, Peron’s dispensary helped many patients who had many adverse reactions from the primitive AIDS drugs available at the time.
After the state referendum passed, there were few regulations on the medical program. The federal government did not believe the state had the authority to legalize cannabis. Thus, many dispensaries were raided by police.
“I was there because I wanted to make sure I was stocked up,” Lassiter said. “It was where society’s rejects hung out and felt fellowship and company. A lot of people were very sick,” he explained.
It was the political action of the gay LGBT people and their allies and the AIDS crisis, Lassiter said, that made cannabis a legitimate medicine.
June became LGBT pride month in recognition of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969 in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The riots kicked off the movement, which grew dramatically afterward. The first gay pride march was the following June in 1970, making this month the 50th year of pride marches.
Accomplishments of LGBT and NJ Cannabis Activists
After years of advocacy, Jay Lassiter is now a well-known writer for InsiderNJ.com. Lassiter said one of his accomplishments is simply living after being HIV-positive for 28 years.
Legalizing medical cannabis in the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) was great for him to be part of after being a cannabis activist pushing it for so long. In addition, seeing civil unions implemented was a great step forward on the way to marriage. A couple of years later, Lassiter went to Ireland two weeks before gay marriage was approved via referendum. He spent much of his vacation campaigning and logged many miles walking.
Seeing Maryland, where he grew up, approve gay marriage was also an accomplishment. Lassiter went to Maryland after Hurricane Sandy and served as a county Field Director of votes in 2012. It was the first time that gay marriage had been approved by a referendum and the first win after several losses.
“It’s nice my friends aren’t dying of AIDS anymore,” Lassiter said, reflecting on the meaning of Pride Month. “Nowadays, it’s a chance to hang out and get a chance to spend time with friends.”
He noted that pride events are often family-friendly with playground arrangements.
“You never would have dreamed of that 20 years ago,” Lassiter said. He noted it had become an event where politicians seeking support often visit.
But overall, cannabis advocacy has not been full of easy victories. Lassiter noted that others have found that being a cannabis activist is difficult.
“(It’s been) mostly a lot of low lows because lawmakers are pretty much awful people. They never fail to disappoint,” Lassiter said.
New Jersey Cannabis Issues
After many years of fighting, Lassiter is unhappy about the medical marijuana program in New Jersey.
“New Jersey gets none of my business. I usually go to a dispensary in another state,” he said. Lassiter lives in Cherry Hill in Camden County. He said he smokes to cope with the great anxiety caused by the Trump era.
Jay Lassiter said it is much easier to become a patient in other states. He blames many of the regulations left over from former governor Chris Christie administration.
“I’m just glad to have a black-market contact,” he said regarding his source of cannabis.
He is in full favor of decriminalization to address the issue of patients turning elsewhere for supply. Lassiter noted Attorney Gurbir Grewal 2018 called for an end to the prosecution of cannabis crimes. That stoppage was short-lived.
Like many other long-time cannabis advocates, Jay Lassiter laments the lack of homegrow in New Jersey. The other major issue in the medical program is the lack of home delivery.
Lassiter called the system the “cartel model.”
“The regulations allow the dispensaries to be greedy and forces them to have high prices due to overhead,” Jay Lassiter explained.
He added dispensaries have burdensome rules to follow. For example, they need to destroy unsold pieces of cannabis.
“We are fighting for home delivery during a crisis, pandemic when we are trying to keep medically fragile people at home,” Lassiter added.
“It’s really maddening,” Lassiter lamented.