A Path of Restoration: Green Candidate Hoffman Seeks to Right New Jersey’s Cannabis Wrongs

Cannabis legalization: been there, done that, at least in New Jersey, right? Or so some may have thought. Following the August 17th announcement of regulations set in place by New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, it is clear that much more needs to be done. The process of legalization that has been adapted by Governor Phil Murphy’s New Jersey continues to avoid the deep rooted inequalities ingrained in the way the criminal justice system historically handled this issue and the brand new cannabis industry here in the Garden State and beyond. Small black and brown-owned businesses suffer and tax money is funnelled into racist policing practices, all reinforcing the issues present pre-decriminalization. Multinational corporations, who have eyed the land of small growers, have taken over far too much land that could greatly benefit independent growers in New Jersey, and even in South America. During her trip to Colombia, Green Candidate for Governor Madelyn Hoffman got a taste of how this rapidly expanding industry is affecting individuals and small growers in the South, and is continuing to bring her ceaseless work towards equality into communities battered by the intrusion of corporations and racist policing.
 
While in central Colombia, Hoffman paid a visit to an organic cannabis farm that is conducting research into optimal growing conditions for marijuana at different altitudes. The farm has a special connection to the Garden State, as the head grower and researcher resides in Englewood, New Jersey. Beyond researching optimal conditions, the farm also serves a restorative purpose. The Indigenous peoples of the region have been growing cannabis for medicinal use for centuries.  However, threats to the land, beginning with the origins of the  drug trade,  displacement, and geopolitical change have severed the peoples’ connection to the purest seed strains of the crop. One goal of the cannabis collective is to restore strains to their rightful owners, allowing indigenous to continue to grow cannabis and benefit from that practice.
 
The entry of corporations with their own agendas, namely to grow as much product as possible in short time without care for quality or impact, has led also to contamination within newer strains. Canadian-led multinationals, including ClearLeaf, have spearheaded the charge of destruction. Under the current Colombian regime, native land has been taken and abused for the purposes of multinationals, robbing the original residents of their ancestral grounds as well as any reliable means of profit from this industry. In order to reunite indigenous tribes with their ancestral growing practices, this Colombian organization is utilizing their expertise and greenhouses to create the purest possible strain of cannabis, one comparable to the native strain, and is giving the seed back to its original people and homeland. These restorative measures are what is needed to provide tangible justice to the people of Colombia who have continuously had their culture and land stolen for the sake of the foreign marijuana market. The cannabis collective is also working to maximize the ability of small growers in Colombia to benefit from this newly emerging industry. 
In New Jersey, however, there is a saddening lack of restorative justice occurring during the state’s ongoing process of legalization. Policing of hemp and cannabis products has taken a toll on countless communities, especially those consisting of mostly Black and Latinx people. Needless arrests and charges of cannabis possession and sale have hurt the livelihoods of many black and brown people across the Garden State and beyond. In fact, a person of color is three times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterpart who consumes the exact same quantity of cannabis.
 
A monumental failure of the Murphy administration during the process of legalization has been the management of tax money accumulated from this emerging industry. Though policing of this substance has destroyed communities of color, tax dollars are being pumped back into the hands of law enforcement, rather than into programs that can help restore the widespread damage that the inequality in police enforcement has caused. 
 
Just like in Colombia, small growers in New Jersey have been pushed aside by the administration and its corporate allies in order that multinationals may purchase and possess more farmland. A large issue at the center of legalization has been the ability of people to home grow, something prohibited at present. If allowed, this would create space for small businesses and individuals to grow their own products. Despite the positive effect this would have on the people and market in the state, Murphy and others refuse to pass legislation that would allow for this. The Canadian cannabis and hemp industry has also laid roots in the Garden State, as a company named TerrAscend became one of just twelve companies licensed to grow and sell marijuana. Of the current twelve, none are owned or operated by black or brown individuals, those who have been the most impacted by the disproportionate targeted incarceration of their communities.  Further, there needs to be a prioritization of black and brown entrepreneurs who are NJ residents in the current and future cannabis licensing process. By failing to license businesses owned by people of color, our state has failed to give itself the tools to restore what has been ravaged by disproportionate policing in the past. 
 
Attempting to stray away from the bad example set by Governor Murphy, Madelyn Hoffman promises to continue her fight for the people in South America and New Jersey who have been hurt by cannabis criminalization and an emerging large, corporate-dominated industry. Hoffman vows to follow a path of restorative justice, and legalizing home grow to allow small businesses to cultivate their own product, is of top priority. Black and brown New Jerseyans deserve justice for years of  oppression from racist marijuana policing practices. Allowing corporations to grow and dispense while barring locals from conducting business is the polar opposite of what our state needs, and there is no time to wait on these issues. Action is required now in order to create a truly equitable cannabis market, and to provide New Jersey with a brighter future.
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