Jay Lassiter on NJ’s Hot Summer Political Potpourri (Warning: It Stinks)

Insider NJ's Jay Lassiter provides a summary of NJ political news so far this summer, including a Cory Booker fundraiser hosted by a man who runs a for-profit ICE detention camp in Essex County and the holes in recent medical marijuana legislation.

You’re gonna wanna hold your nose for this one.

ICE Camps in Essex County

You don’t go from 1% to 2% in the polls without breaking a few cartons of vegan egg substitute along the way. NJ Senator Cory Booker has proven as much out on the presidential campaign trail.

One day he’s on the debate stage in Miami masterfully demonstrating his woke-ness. You know the shtick by now: telegenic, Twitter-savvy, multi-ethnic,  queer-loving feminist with charm to burn. Many Democratic Primary voters swooned at Booker’s debate performance, highlighted by his thoughtful plan to curb gun violence.

Pundits generally agreed.

That same week, Cory Booker was doing that other thing he does so fluently: enabling and cosigning the worst instincts of NJ’s shadiest politicos. The occasion: a $2,800/plate fundraiser for Booker’s presidential campaign.

(Those wild vacillations would give most of us whiplash. But for Cory Booker it’s just another week on the campaign trail.)

The fundraiser, which reportedly raised nearly half a million dollars, was hosted by Joseph DiVincenzo and George Norcross, both mired in miasmas completely anathema to Booker’s carefully cultivated progressive persona. DiVincenzo and his Essex County crew are currently running a for-profit ICE detention camp that’s so squalid, even the Trump Administration balked at the abject and rampant inhumanity.

I’m late to the party on this one. Frankly I’m embarrassed it took me so long to speak up about for-profit ICE detention camps in my home state. I’ll reflect on that with some shame but in the meantime, let’s not forget that when Essex County’s top elected official got called out running squalid internet camps, NOT ONE Essex County democrat uttered a critical word. Not Senator Teresa Ruiz. Not Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin. Not Mayor Ras Baraka.

And not Senator Cory Booker.

Pot Holes

Last week NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that would quantifiably improve NJ’s ghastly, costly medical cannabis program. This legislation does some good things.

But here’s the real tea: 1) none of those positive changes are in effect yet 2) there are still only 6 dispensaries in NJ and 3) medical cannabis is still upwards of $500/oz in New Jersey, a price point that’s wildly out-of-line with most other states.

Murphy and the gang.

In his remarks before signing the bill, Murphy failed to acknowledge anybody who was doing this work before he arrived on the scene less than two years ago.

It was disappointing listening to the governor praise this new legislation completely ignoring the fact that cannabis is still cost prohibitive for so many. It just felt really detached.

Murphy’s staff of Very Young Climbers failed to even invite the state’s most venerable cannabis advocates, many of whom found themselves morning of scrambling to sort out where/when the Governor planned to sign the bill.

It’s almost like the Governor and his team didn’t want the heaviest lifters at the party.

More Pot Holes

Part of the deal to improve access to medical cannabis in NJ was the establishment of a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee NJ’s program.

Ken Wolski founded the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ nearly 2 decades ago.

“I have mixed feelings about the Cannabis Regulatory Commission,” Wolski told InsiderNJ. “That was supposed to be for recreational cannabis. Why do you want another bureaucratic program with over $500,000 in salaries when the Department of Health under Governor Murphy is doing their best?”

Mr Wolski noted that, to the limited extent possible NJ DOH has always pushed for positive changes. The more consequential improvements rely on  legislative intervention which in this instance came belatedly and half-assed.

In a nutshell, NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be comprised of 5 political appointees, each making 6-figures, who control all aspects of NJ’s medical- and recreational cannabis markets. Notably, they’re the gatekeepers who decide who does business in NJ’s infinitely lucrative cannabis marketplace.

The Governor nominates three (of 5) commissioners and NJ’s senate president and assembly speaker each get one pick. Who in Trenton doesn’t wanna be on that commission? I know I do!

Whoever gets the nod should emulate Shaleen Title, who serves on Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission. She Tweet-stormed the gold standard of what marijuana legalization should look like.

Her first tip:

Homegrow. Allow consumers to grow a limited number of their own plants at home (in MA, it’s 6 per adult with max of 12 per residence, see law for details) and gift a limited amount to other adults (in MA, it’s one ounce). This serves as a check on monopolies, delays, and more.

My favorite nugget:

“Social justice advocates being asked to support legalization bills, being promised that equity will come later: you know it won’t. Don’t underestimate the power you have. After the law passes you’ll never have this much power again. Use it. Future generations are counting on you.”

If you’re really curious what cannabis legalization is gonna look like here in NJ, read the Commissioner’s brilliant Tweet-thread.  Then try to imagine the exact opposite.

Because at this rate, that’s probably what we’ll end up with in New Jersey.

Jay Lassiter is an award winning writer and journalist who’s working hard to get the government out of your bong. He still gets his medical cannabis on the black market. 

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