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Webinar Held Focused on Social Justice in Cannabis Bill

A virtual panel convened by Salvation and Social Justice focused on enhancing the social justice provisions in the cannabis bill.

The panel consisted of Rev. Charles Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice, R. Todd Edwards of the NAACP, ACLU NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo, NJ Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy, and me representing the Latino Action Network.

Social Justice in the Cannabis Bill

Boyer pointed out that the social justice-minded legalization coalition has already improved the cannabis bill by getting a tax included that would fund social justice programs, but changes based on the price of cannabis. The more expensive it is, the lower the tax. This was done to keep the price of cannabis competitive with underground cannabis.

Fajardo noted that the bill’s final version is likely to be released late today, as the previous updates have been. ACLU NJ is circulating a petition to advocate the cannabis bill be further modified to enhance the social justice provisions.

McKoy noted that a license of a cap of 37 for the larger companies for two years would still limit the supply of cannabis in the state necessary for a healthy market. Moreover, New Jersey still has a shortage of cannabis available which is why medical cannabis is so expensive. A coalition of social justice-minded organizations has taken the same position.

Edwards discussed the need to create a just industry. He believes there should be explicit opportunities to include community members from areas most harmed by racist policing and those with prior cannabis-related records and their families participating in the new cannabis marketplace.

Edwards also noted the need to secure capital for minority entrepreneurs who usually do not have access to such large sums of money.

I spoke about the fact that cannabis prohibition has been racist against Hispanics from the start. No one who was not a Mexican American called it “marijuana” before prohibition became law in 1937. Those who used it for medicine and industrial purposes called it hemp, and others enjoyed smoking hashish. Thus, cannabis is the preferred nomenclature.

While New Jersey is on the verge of enacting great cannabis legislation, we are not there yet. The Senate version of the cannabis bill says that workers can be tested for cannabis use under any circumstances. If that version passes, workers are will likely suffer from a bias in favor of the employers. A large coalition has mobilized in favor of this position. Led the NJ Business and Industry Association, it includes the Hispanic and African American Chambers of Commerce of NJ along with smaller chapters of the State Chamber and other anti-worker organizations.

However, the Assembly version of the bill says a “reasonable” justification is needed for a drug test. That is a better position.

This upcoming Monday, the 14th, there will be a hearing for the cannabis legislation. On Thursday, it is likely the bill will be voted on and passed by the legislature. That is the last voting day of the year for the legislature. If something is not passed by the end of the year, no one is sure what will happen on New Year’s Day besides cannabis being legal.

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