NJ Legalized Pot. A 420 Primer (What’s Next?)


It’s 4/20, a day to celebrate cannabis and cannabis culture.

For the uninitiated, 420 is slang for cannabis and “is it 4/20?” is common shorthand for “can we get stoned now?”

It’s a little early in the day for bong hits. So let’s do a  Top 10 list instead to mark NJ’s first 4/20 since we legalized recreational cannabis last November.

10.  They know how bad this looked.

After trying for years to legalize pot legislatively, NJ lawmakers finally sent the issue to voters who settled the issue last November. Then, for months, as NJ politicians struggled to carry out the will of the people, lawmakers from all over the state called me to unburden themselves, frustrated and embarrassed at their failure to legalize cannabis in NJ.

Those conversations with lawmakers resembled the Quote of the Day honors (awarded by Matt Friedman) given to to NJ Senator Paul Sarlo for this gem:

“Quite frankly this process has been a debacle from the beginning. The voters did their job. We failed to do ours,” Senator Sarlo said.

Isn’t it nice to know that, at some level, NJ lawmakers realize just how farcical the drive to legalize cannabis legislatively had become?

9. Meet the Chairwoman 

Dianne Houenou is the inaugural chairperson of New  Jersey’s newly empaneled Cannabis Regulatory Commission. The five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission will regulate and govern medical- and recreational cannabis in NJ giving each member plenty of influence over the Garden State’s potentially very lucrative cannabis industry.

Governor Phil Murphy’s appointment of Ms. Houenou to lead this process was a smart move. Ms. Houenou’s impeccable, unimpeachable credentials include a 3 year stint at ACLU-NJ where she led their cannabis legalisiton efforts.

Despite the overwhelming racial disparities of pot arrests in NJ, plenty still doubt and indeed mock the social justice component of cannabis reform. They call us “woke’ for caring. That’s the climate we’re in. Having someone like Dianna Houenou will ensure NJ’s version of legalization includes restorative justice for communities over-policed during the War on Drugs.

8. Meet the Vice-Chair

Sam Delgado is the newly-minuted deputy director of NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Nominated to the commission by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Mr. Delgado was an unknown quantity for some pot advocates.

But Sam Delgado’s life story reveals a man uniquely suited to serve on NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. His childhood neighborhood in the Bronx was devastated by the War on Drugs. At the CRC’s first pubic meeting, Mr. Delgado shared details of his own marijuana arrest back in the 1970s. Sam Delgado’s spot on this commission proves that New Jersey values the perspective of those most harmed by America’s War on Drugs.

A retired Marine Corps officer, Sam Delgado brings traits to the table like discipline and teamwork and leadership. More recently, Mr. Delgado’s time as a Verizon executive means plenty of government affairs fluency for NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission to rely on.

When we reached out to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) to find out why Sam Delgado go the nod, the Speaker was generous with praise.

“Sam Delgado’s professional and military service is outstanding and I strongly believe he is the best person to serve on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission,”  Speaker Craig Coughlin told InsiderNJ. “Sam is an expert in the fields of community leadership, business management, strategic planning, supplier diversity and regulatory policy. He will bring these talents to the Commission and is a valued addition. I congratulate Sam. His life experiences, background in public policy and business leadership also made him the ideal choice for Vice Chairmanship of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.”


7. Home Grow

In many ways, NJ’s medical marijuana program continues to underwhelm. Despite some marginal improvements over the years, we still have the most expensive and over-regulated medical marijuana in all the land. Instead of home grow provisions like most other states, NJ will send you to jail for growing your own. One plant can fetch 3 year in jail. That’s just as true today, post-legalization, as it was when the race to end cannabis prohibition began.

There are competing bills in Trenton right now to permit the home cultivation of (medical) cannabis in NJ. And if past is prologue, the legislature might take a while getting it done. In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal from issuing guidance urging prosecutors basically to let medical cannabis users grow their medicine in peace.

6. Solving the Expungement Riddle

New Jersey voters just legalized pot by overwhelming margins. So what to do about the thousands of criminal records in NJ which remain blighted by low-level pot convictions?  These criminal records hamper the long-term prospects of actual people who’ve been harmed by the War of Drugs.

The expungement riddle has bedeviled state lawmakers for quite a few years. Their enthusiasm to right a historic wrong is thus far dwarfed by the breadth of the task as hand: to make the pot expungements free for anyone who qualifies.

My advise for the NJ state legislature: 1) listen to a lawyer whose specialty is expungements 2) listen to the League of Municipalities cuz it’s the municipalities where the rubber hit the road and 3) be prepared to aim a firehose of cash at an opportunity  to modernize the expungement process in NJ.


5. “Defund the Police” 

An ACLU-NJ report from 2016 estimated NJ spends about $127,000,000 a year policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating non-violent pot users in the Garden State.

The first $60,000,00 goes to toward the actual policing part. It costs another $50,000,000 for NJ courts to adjudicate all those (30,000 or so) yearly pot arrests. Finally, it costs NJ another $17,000,000 to incarcerate people convicted of something NJ voters just legalized.

Legalization means we don’t have to spend all that money over-policing pot use anymore. We can  reallocate $127,000,000 for other priorities instead.

4. Boom/Bust

An article about Canada’s “Green Rush” was a sobering read for anyone pinning their hopes on a booming pot industry in NJ right away. Or even long term. The articles’s secondary title “Most marijuana producers in Canada are still reporting staggering losses two and a half years after legalization” reminds us that the cannabis green rush inevitably has it limits.

NJ is infinitely more densely populated than Canada. And the stingy licensing system (ya know, the oneI love to complain about) might protect us from too many producers. But much like gambling in Atlantic City, once our neighboring states (PA, MD, DE) hop on the legalization bandwagon, NJ’s cannabis marketshare will inevitably shrink.

3. Cannabis Power List

InsiderNJ’s 2nd Cannabis Power List, a tribute to politically influential voices in the cannabis space, drops later this spring. My original plan was release it today, 4/20, but we’re going with June instead.

That increases the likelihood for an actual live, in person release party.

In the meantime, if there’s someone you think belongs on our upcoming Cannabis Power List, email me (Lassiter.Jay@gmail.com) with your pitch.

2. Take a (modest) bow, Governor Phil Murphy.

How about a round of applause for NJ Governor Phil Murphy who (belatedly) fulfilled a campaign pledged when pot became legal in NJ. Murphy kept pushing despite littlesupport for South Jersey democrats and none from the NJGOP.

1.  Like your pot legal? Thank an AIDS activist!

California voters made history in Nov 1996 by passing Proposition 215, America’s first successful referendum to legalize medical cannabis. The winning tally, over a million votes, was assured by huge margins in Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities deeply devastated by America’s AIDS crisis.

Cannabis made dying of AIDS less awful. AIDS forced the LGBTQ community to organize like our lives depended on it because they did.

As New Jersey embarks on our own experiment with marijuana legalization, I feel an urgent need to remind the world that AIDS set the table for marijuana reform in America. The earliest activism to get us here was done by people with AIDS and their caretakers.

The suffering caused by AIDS softened enough hearts that within a generation, America was ready to embrace marijuana reform.

Jay Lassiter has been HIV+ for over 29 years and he’s used medical marijuana the entire time. Most of that time as a criminal. 




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  • Paul Michalec

    This refer-endum on Marijuana should have started here in the GARDEN STATE!! But, with all things considered, at least we’re finally on the right side of the subject – just not a ‘working-side’ of the subject.
    With no draft legislation prepared for last Nov’s vote outcome, lawmakers have left us the next MMJ State in the union to adopt recreational use, but NOTHING as far as a path forward!!
    Since lawmakers cannot seem to do their jobs right, and now have told us it will take an additional 18 months to hammer it all out….the immediate remedy should be the state-wide loosening of dispensary guidelines to allow any NJ resident over the age of 18 to enter any NJ Medical Dispensary, and purchase their desired medication as though they have the NJ MMJ Card issued by the state….. the only way to save-face at this point in the process, is to deliver to the people, what the voters laid down as such……
    “WHERE’S THE WEED?”… should be a bumper sticker on every residents car until our ass-backwards lawmakers figure out how to extricate their heads, out of each other’s asses!!

  • Kathleen Demarest

    This sedate, more or less paragon of virtue, 90 year old female basically
    ignored marijuana her entire life…..passion: nutrition, cooking.
    I was in dire need of this primer.
    BUT NOW, after reading this informative primer, I am ready for a new project.
    I know how to grow vegetables in my back yard.
    I need advice growing marijuana, organically. Column, please.

    Interesting and comprehensive column, Glad you mentioned AIDS.
    I remember well and vividly that time of terror and ignorance.

    If you ever want a recipe for a cheesecake, let me know.
    I am off to start a mulch pile.
    Stay well, Jay Lassiter.

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