Cannabis in New Jersey. The Opposite of Equity

The Gold Dome.

Garden State cannabis regulators talk about equity a lot. It’s become a cliche: equity for those charged with pot crimes and for communities over-policed during the War on Drugs. Equity for consumers and for patients who use medical cannabis to improve their quality of life. Even equity for people who smoke cannabis because they like to get high.

But what we ended up with is the opposite of equity.

NY v NJ

New Jersey and New York both kicked off recreational cannabis sales in 2022.

New York’s first recreational cannabis dispensary is run by a charity called Housing Works Cannabis Company that’ll use the profits to fund their work combatting AIDS and homelessness.

New Jersey’s first (and biggest) recreational cannabis dispensary is run by an out-of-state corporation called Curaleaf whose CEO Boris Jordan has close business ties to Russia.

But the murky, myriad Russian connections to NJ’s cannabis industry don’t end there.

A Russian billionaire, Andrei Bloch (or Blokh) first got rich when Russia privatized its oil resources back in the 1990s. He now owns 28% of Curaleaf. Mr. Bloch’s business partner is Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a man so cozy with the Kremlin, his yacht and his English football club got snatched. Bloch’s stake in Curaleaf, New Jersey’s largest cannabis company, landed him back on Forbes’ list of richest Russians.

The contrast between NJ and NY’s approach to legal cannabis sales could not be starker: New York uses cannabis profits, in this instance, to “go back to fund our services and advocacy, which include housing, healthcare, and people living with HIV and chronic illness”, the creative director of the non-profit Housing Works, Elizabeth Koke, told the local media.

New Jersey uses cannabis revenues to line the pockets of out-of-state corporations and Russian oligarchs.

Since Russia’s blood-thirsty invasion of Ukraine, the world is rapidly shrinking for Russian oligarchs, especially those with ties to Putin. But apparently there’s room in New Jersey’s cannabis industry for rich Russians with murky post-Soviet backstories.

Remember that the next time a NJ cannabis regulators mentions the word “equity.”

Sticker Shock

Currently, medical cannabis users in New Jersey pay roughly $500 for an ounce of mediocre (at best) medicine at a NJ dispensary. That’s nearly $18/gram, more than double the price in Washington DC and over 3x what you’d pay in Colorado.

Legalized weed was supposed top lower NJ’s outlandish medical cannabis prices but it hasn’t. This, despite promises from regulators that help is on the way, such as tax credits for medical purchases or even something like insurance coverage to cover medical cannabis costs.

Thus far, there’s no relief  for NJ medical cannabis users who are forced to pay cash for the most expensive medical cannabis in America.

Making sick and drying people pay cartel prices while political-connected dispensary owners drown in profits is not equity.

It’s the opposite of equity.

Expungement Delays

New Jersey voters legalized adult-use cannabis in November 2020 and since then, cannabis arrests in New Jersey have plummeted. That’s an undeniably good thing we should all be proud of because locking people up for weed is bad public policy.

But what about people who already have a criminal record for something that’s now legal?

“Governor Phil Murphy hasn’t issued a single (expletive) pardon for any pot crimes but says nothing is needed for cannabis because of the reforms they did,” one unimpressed insider fumed. “And if you talk to any practicing attorney that deals with those expungement reforms, you’d know they’re broken as all hell and that claims to the contrary are simply not credible.”

We found a practicing attorney to confirm NJ’s enduring expungement train wreck.

“Most people will not be able to do an expungement petition themselves no matter how ‘easy’ the legislation claims (it is),” Alma Saravia, attorney at Flaster Greenberg PC told InsiderNJ.

Ms Saravia warns that we’re shockingly unprepared for the onslaught of expungement petitions – up to 1,000,000 – in the wake of legalization. For example, did you know there’s only one expungement judge per county?!  That’s proof we’ve never prioritized the expungement process to begin with, an essay for another day.

“In my experience, the expungement process will be a nightmare unless there’s major funding for vitally needed changes to the law,” Ms Saravia ominously warns.

That means more money for more judges immediately. Legislators could earmark some of the recreational tax revenue or even work it out in the budget process, a less likely prospect. It’s an investment that reflects our rapidly changing views on drug policy. And it’s a smart investment too – conservatives please listen closely – because we’re trying to restore liberties here.

With each cannabis conviction, someone’s professional prospects are hobbled for a lifetime. That’s what having a criminal record does! When fellow citizens languish in dead-end jobs after getting ensnared by the War of Drugs, we all pay!!  Clearing those non-violent, low-level cannabis convictions could put countless people on a path to more liberty and more prosperity.

And more equity.

According to another Trenton insider, NJ Attorney General Matt “Platkin said 80% of NJ’s  expungement pipeline would be cleared as soon as their automated system comes online. That was in May.”

That hasn’t happened yet.

3-5 years in jail

In 2020, NJ voters legalized recreational cannabis by a 2-to-1 margin.

I wonder how many of those 2,737,682 “YES” voters realize that home cultivation of cannabis remains extremely illegal here in the Garden State, including for medicinal purposes. Anyone growing weed faces 3-5 years in jail for a single pot plant, putting NJ way out of line with most other states where patients can grow their own. Why? Because in NJ, growing your own is legally akin to having a meth lab at your home. That’s not a joke, that’s not hyperbole.

And it’s definitely not equity.

Jay Lassiter devoted his adult life to reforming NJ’s backwards cannabis laws only to be priced out the legal marketplace.

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9 responses to “Cannabis in New Jersey. The Opposite of Equity”

  1. typically bitter with an extremely jaded perspective, just what we are all seeking in a journalist wannabe..

  2. The reason people can’t grow there own pot is because nj needs the tax money and that’s the only reason.Everthing in nj has to be taxed.The money is used to dig the same road over and over.The only reason pot is legal is like gambling on sports nj needs the taxes.

  3. This is typical NJ, this state embarrasses itself in everything it does. NY made us look stupid with how they legalized it and were ready with a plan. Nj had no plan and is the laughing stock over all the other states that have legalized. All they really legalized was the right for its citizens to make huge companies richer and put more tax money in their pockets by selling garbage for astronomical prices and didn’t help one single person from this state to better their life in this industry.
    I waited to move from this state to see how this all worked out and now that I see I’m outta here

  4. America is a joke..hope the entire country burn for their wicked actions towards people of color. You deserve punishment!

  5. I am a medical marijuana patient. The prices at the dispensaries are absolutely ridiculous!!! Marijuana can be purchased on just about any street in N.J. The first thing that needs to be done is to add cultivation to our legalization laws!! If the state is worried about losing money from letting people and patients grow their own, I would even be ok with a small permit fee. They charge us for everything else dog license, building permits etc. Let us be able to afford medicine!!!

  6. Not to mention the antiquated DOT drug testing laws which prevent people from using legal marijuana because they can’t fail a drug test. You only have to have marijuana in your system to lose your license not under the influence

  7. While I appreciate the ease of access, the prices are a bit higher than I’m comfortable with, and quality has been mostly questionable; in some cases downright poor.

    And no Homegrow? How was that never part of the bill?

    Very unimpressed thus far.

    When possible, I will buy from my original source, that offers cheaper and better quality product.

  8. It is a sad commentary on the state of n.j. I will continue to buy my medicine from the black market until this state gets it sh— together!

  9. I’m moving from NJ as soon as possible. NJ is only interested in making as much money as possible off its residents. NJ ranks high in all types of taxes and low in resident satisfaction.

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