Social Justice Strides Are Significant, and ACLU-NJ Looks Forward to Working with CRC and Legislature to Realize Organization’s “Baseline Cannabis Justice Plan”

The ACLU-NJ conducted a deep-dive analysis of the first cannabis regulations approved by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, accompanied by a petition with 588 signatures in support of meaningful racial and social justice measures. The ACLU-NJ reviewed the 160-page regulations, examining the social justice provisions and noting places that require further regulations. 

“In implementation, regulations can spell the difference between social justice and the status quo – and New Jersey’s first regulations on cannabis offer a promising start, with some gaps that remain to be filled and questions that should be answered in additional forthcoming regulations,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo. “The commitment to social justice comes through loud and clear. We hope to work with the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to back up these principles through further work to allocate resources for equity-status applicants and real, meaningful community reinvestment.”

The review of the regulations comes on the heels of the release of the ACLU-NJ’s Baseline Cannabis Justice Plan, which recommended several of the steps the commission took in its first round of regulations. 

“Every step of the way, from the first cannabis hearings to legalization’s signing, New Jerseyans have sought racial and social justice as a non-negotiable element of legalization, and that urgency carries through in regulation, including in the specifics that still need to follow,” said ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia. “Hundreds of people have signed our petition to urge the CRC to address the harms of the drug war, through reinvestment in the hardest-hit communities and start-up capital for equity-status applicants, and more people sign on each day.” 

Some of the provisions, both large and small, build on policies aimed at creating equity in other jurisdictions, and dovetail with the ACLU-NJ’s recommendations put forward in our Baseline Cannabis Justice Plan:

  • A wide swath in social justice -based application status: The priority applicant categories include - in addition to “minorities, women, and disabled veterans” as included in the legislation – people who live in low-income areas and people with previous marijuana convictions, an important component of beginning to repair communities – largely communities of color – devastated by the drug war. They automatically jump to the head of the line, regardless of when they apply. 

  • No arbitrary caps to licenses and no cap to microlicenses 

  • Strict anti-corruption rules that prohibit money in exchange for preference in licenses, with enforcement built in 

  • Social justice principles embedded in regular, non-priority licenses: The CRC gives extra priority points in license applications to businesses with collective-bargaining agreements, and the regulations call for a good-faith effort to hire a workplace that is diverse, from economic impact zones, or someone affected by a marijuana conviction. 

  • Accessible application fees: Application fees will total an amount between $500 and $2,000, which compares favorably to other states – for example, Illinois has a $5,000 flat fee for certain licenses. Keeping the costs down encourages greater diversity in applicants. 

The regulations also left open potential areas of concern and other areas that will need to be fleshed out in the next round of regulations. In subsequent regulations, we hope the CRC builds on them, as recommended in the ACLU-NJ’s Baseline Cannabis Justice Plan: 

  • Startup capital and business resources for equity applicants: Starting a business involves considerable resources and  personal risk, and that risk is even greater for applicants who face economic barriers and systemic discrimination. To meaningfully carry out the social justice provisions in cannabis licenses, startup capital and resources would have to be made available to such applicants. 

  • Guidance to municipalities: Municipalities have wide discretion to enforce cannabis laws in ways that could contradict the spirit of the laws and regulations, and with so many municipalities opting out – any of which may potentially opt back in – industry equity and inclusivity must also be prioritized at the local level. 

  • Meaningful distribution of social equity excise fees that invests in communities impacted by marijuana enforcement: We must ensure that revenue collected from the social equity excise fee is allocated with meaningful public input from impact zone communities devastated by the war on drugs disproportionately. Additionally, the fees should not go toward police under any circumstance, as law enforcement is responsible for carrying out the destructive war on drugs. 

Advocates with New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, a coalition of leaders in cannabis justice, including the ACLU-NJ, will continue to mobilize support for meaningful social justice measures in regulations and in the law, and the petition is ongoing.