After months of exhaustive effort from Progressive activists to legalize cannabis for a more racially and socially just New Jersey, New Jersey’s State Senate is trying to rush a deeply flawed bill from Senators Scutari and Sweeney into law. This bill, which failed to pass last year, sends cannabis tax revenues into police departments for training to aid in enforcement, includes no restorative justice, and has not materially been changed since its failure last year. The effect is a corporatist structure that does nothing to repair the harms felt under prior cannabis prohibition, and is a slap in the face to cannabis justice activism and to voters, especially people of color, who fought to get this passed. Once again, we put in effort and resources, only to have the legislature stare with greed in their eyes at an endeavor that should be an opportunity for social justice.
There must be a stronger, more justice-focused implementation of legalization. One that reinvests in the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition to fund job training, legal aid for civil and criminal cases, health education programs, housing assistance, food assistance, healthcare services, re-entry services and more. One that allocates tax revenue to create financial resources for grants, no-interest loans, and programming to help individuals from impact zones and those with prior cannabis-related criminal records to enter into the cannabis industry. One that releases those being held on cannabis-related offenses, and expunges all cannabis-related offenses. One that creates an amnesty by which existing cannabis sellers can join the legal market. One that ensures young individuals caught with cannabis do not experience unreasonably harsh punishments. One that allows home-grow. One that seeks to uplift people of color in the cannabis market by reducing barriers to accessing licenses.
It’s going to take an upswell of action from progressives, the cannabis community, and all citizens who acknowledge that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately harmed people of color in order to demand these aspects be included in the regulatory framework being considered. Action must be taken immediately — Scutari and Sweeney are pushing to speed this process through in order to pass this bill by November 16th.
Call your state Senator, call your Assembly Representatives, and call Governor Murphy to demand that this bill not become the framework we use in New Jersey without substantive changes to return the focus to justice.
Other states have made these mistakes, and we must do better.