Marijuana Legalization. Will NJ avoid a Dumpster Fire?

Scutari

With cannabis legalization increasingly imminent in NJ, let’s adjust our expectations for how it’s really gonna be when some form of legalization finally happens.

I’ve got some concerns: 1) the timeline 2) price/quality 3) NJ’s ban on home cultivation and 4) expungement nightmares up and down the state.

TICK TOCK

Even if cannabis were somehow legalized, say, tomorrow, it’s gonna be a while before any sales actually happen. Have you seen a whip count? Me neither but say the votes are there and that our legislature passes S2703/A4497, the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act” and Governor Murphy signs in into law within the next few weeks.

(It might happen, y’all!)

That would mean a lavish bill signing ceremony sometime in March of 2019.

Then, it’ll be at least 18 months for regulators and gatekeepers to sort out the rules. I’d be shocked if recreational pot sales happen before September, 2020.

$500/oz + NO home grow!

And when pot sales finally do happen, it’ll probably go something like this: a small number of politically-connected insiders will get uncommonly rich off this booming new industry while the rest of us pay $500 an ounce for crappy bud.

Home cultivation gives patients an alternative to the $500/oz cartel model we’ve got now. But there’s no appetite in Trenton to let medical- or recreational consumers grow our own cannabis.

That wasn’t always the case.

“What do current NJ state senators Jim Beach, Joe Pennacchio, Teresa Ruiz, Nick Scutari, Brian Stack,  Nick Sacco, Robert Singer, Steve Sweeney, Joe Vitale, Kip Bateman, Sandra Cunningham, Paul Sarlo, Bob Smith, and Loretta Weinberg have in common?” Jim Miller recently mused on social media.

Sensing our inability to find the common thread, Mr Miller, long time cannabis reformer, answered his own question: “These are senators who all voted ‘YES’ to S-119 on Feb. 23, 2009, the medical marijuana bill that included home grow provisions that were specific and strict. They knew how important it was then. Do they think it is any less important now?”

Because something happened between the senate vote the first hearing in the Assembly several months later. Specifically, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Herb Conways didn’t post the bill until two crucial amendments where made: 1) no home cultivation and 2) chronic pain was removed as a qualifying condition.

“When Herb Conaway pulled home-cultivation from the assembly companion bill 10 minutes before the committee vote without explanation, patients were asked to wait for home cultivation. Those who are still alive have waited long enough,” Miller told InsiderNJ.

They’ll keep waiting.

In the meantime, medical cannabis users who grow their own are criminals. And that’s ironic because the real crime is how much dispensaries are charging sick people for their meds. Which frankly makes it hard to argue when anti-legalization folks like Senator Ron Rice say things like “It’s not about social justice, it’s about money.

Because this is all about money. We’ve been gouging medical cannabis consumers for the past 6 1/2 years to prove it.

Expungement Dumpster Fire.

The predictions and warnings I’ve made thus far collectively pale in comparison to the expungement nightmare that’s on the horizon. I wish I had an airhorn to get everyone’s attention on our looming expungement crisis.

“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 BONKERS!!!! And it’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 to people! When fellow citizens languish in dead-end jobs because they got ensnared by the War of Drugs, we all pay!!  Clearing those non-violent, low-level cannabis convictions could help countless people get on a path to more liberty and more prosperity.

But…..

We’ve got an expungement system that can barely process the roughly 15,000 petitions it receives each year.

“I filed an expungement for a health care professional,” Ms Saravia told InsiderNJ. “We went through two judges before the court granted the petition — eight months after I first filed the petition. It took the State Police six months to process this expungement order. This is typical.”

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano chairs the assembly judicial committee. If everyone shared her sense of urgency on the expungement piece, we wouldn’t be here, on the cusp of a hot mess.

“In order to file the expungement petition, the person must have detailed information on the arrest, the conviction, whether there was probation and or jail,” Ms Saravia noted. “Also, will the county prosecutor be permitted to oppose the petition? In my case, the prosecutor opposed the expungement petition so I had to write another brief. While it wasn’t a cannabis case, my case was a very low level non-criminal matter, which didn’t change the fact that it was still very time-consuming.”

No one wants to end cannabis prohibition more than I do. Cannabis reformers are very patient, pragmatic people. But the current plan isn’t half a loaf.

It’s not even crumbs.

 

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster who’s working hard to keep the government out of your bong. He’s on amazon.com ordering airhorns as we speak. 

 

 

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  • tim drake

    Thank you for bringing up the topic Home Grow for medical patients. This common sense aspect of the original bill is sorely lacking in the current the legislation. My wife was prescribed two ounces month for her glaucoma. Since this medication is not covered by insurance, it is totally out of pocket. That’s $1,000-$1,200 a month at the dispensary; we simply can’t afford to provide her with the proper dosage. While a home grow option would be more work, it something we are willing to do because it would reduce cost vastly. I hope some momentum will grow for Medical Home Grow in NJ

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