After nearly ten years of advocacy, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved marijuana legalization in 2020 to advance racial and social justice. The accompanying legislation that was passed and signed the following year put in place some of the most forward-looking cannabis laws in the country and included a groundbreaking decriminalization framework.
Now is a pivotal moment nationally for marijuana legalization and New Jersey. Our recreational marijuana market is being constructed at a time when New Jersey has the opportunity to be a national leader in this space by prioritizing equity and building an industry that reflects the diversity of the state itself from the start. The goals of creating an inclusive industry, promoting racial justice, and beginning to repair the harms of prohibition are too important to be rushed.
Following this week’s announcement that the Legislature may form a committee to review the implementation of marijuana legalization in New Jersey, and last week’s announcement from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission that it issued several minority-owned conditional licenses and intended to promote a level playing field for all applicants, while also continuing to prioritize patient access to medical cannabis, advocacy groups issued the following statements:
Ami Kachalia, ACLU of New Jersey:
“Our state’s cannabis laws can set a new standard for what racial and social justice can look like – to achieve it we must not prioritize speed of implementation over equity in the industry. For cannabis legalization to meet its fullest potential in New Jersey, we must remain committed to repairing the harms of prohibition that disproportionately criminalized and affected Black and brown communities, and provide all applicants with equitable opportunity to succeed.”
Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Salvation and Social Justice:
“Throughout history, cannabis prohibition was used as a prominent tool in a war on Black people. It is misguided to think that the dismantling of that system and construction of a new legal market would happen expeditiously. We must ensure and prioritize the creation of an industry that truly reflects the diversity of our state and meaningfully addresses decades of harm and racial inequities that were perpetuated by prohibition. Black people have waited too long for such an important process to be rushed. We must get this right or we risk further harm to Black communities.”
Richard Smith, NAACP New Jersey State Conference:
“Cannabis legalization must be implemented intentionally and with a focus on creating equitable opportunities and pathways to success for people of color. New Jersey has a unique opportunity to lead the nation on this issue and we must not rush the process at the expense of Black and brown communities. The law was passed with the support of civil rights groups because of this commitment. Moving forward quickly without safeguarding these priorities would break that promise.”
Chris Estevez, Latino Action Network:
“Marijuana legalization was passed with the support of civil rights groups because it centered racial and social justice. Accelerating the implementation process without safeguarding these elements would be a misstep. Communities of color have waited far too long to right the wrongs of marijuana prohibition to end up with a new industry that doesn’t create real opportunities for success or intentionally address decades of harm. While we appreciate the sense of urgency and are also eager for sales to begin, history has taught us that rushing will only result in further harm to communities of color. Such an important issue deserves our time and commitment to getting it right.”
Rev. Eric Dobson, Fair Share Housing Center:
“Cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs has fueled racial inequity in New Jersey and across the nation. As we work to create a new legal cannabis industry, we must center those communities that have been most harmed by prohibition. Equitable access to the industry with meaningful opportunities for people of color to generate wealth must be prioritized. While community reinvestment from revenue is important, we must also be sure that the industry itself is intentionally designed to repair harm to communities of color. This goal is too important to be rushed.”