Advocates testified for hours that justice cannot be left behind, resulting in new social justice amendments in different Assembly and Senate bills

Following hours of testimony almost universally urging racial and social justice in legalization, the Assembly Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted legislation implementing a legal, adult-use cannabis market out of committee. Because the versions were different, they must be negotiated and reconciled.

The Assembly and Senate advanced different versions of implementation legislation, spurred by significant outcry from racial and social justice advocates and concerned New Jerseyans in the last few weeks. The theme of today’s hearings was the need for the Legislature to include stronger racial and social justice provisions to begin to repair the harms of current cannabis laws and build an accessible and inclusive industry.

Following impassioned pleas from advocates for the bill to go further, lawmakers described various amendments, though none are publicly available yet. Both chambers discussed the inclusion of an optional excise tax to fund services and programs in communities most harmed by the War on Drugs. The Senate committee described the heartening elimination of artificial caps on the number of cultivator licenses the state would issue, which the Assembly version capped at 37. Though this progress is promising, further amendments and final concurrent language are necessary to ensure that New Jersey’s legalization scheme reflects and adopts best practices for equity and justice from other states.

Despite promising action today on legislation to implement the adult-use cannabis market, vital legislation (S2535/ A1897) that would decriminalize cannabis possession of up to 6 ounces, dismiss pending charges, and reduce arrests needs to be passed swiftly by the Assembly. Absent this legislation becoming law, New Jersey will continue to make a cannabis-related arrest, on average, every 15 minutes for a substance that will soon be legalized due to overwhelming, bipartisan support from across the state.

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo:

“Voters said yes to legalization overwhelmingly to advance racial and social justice, and lawmakers point to the racial injustices of the drug war as a key motivation to legalize. New Jerseyans deserve to see racial justice in legalization as a reality and in practice, not just in principle.

“Although lawmakers in the Senate have indicated they will no longer cap the number of licenses New Jersey can issue, the Legislature can do more to meet its obligations to communities of color by making the social justice excise tax concrete, rather than optional. Revenue from a new regulated market must reach New Jersey communities that have been criminalized for cannabis for decades.

“We know through legislators’ words that racial justice is a high priority in legalization, but we need to see it as a throughline in the policies they present. While today’s proceedings discussed promising amendments, New Jersey’s cannabis legalization scheme still lags behind other states’ schemes in policies pertaining to racial justice and equity. We need action that puts justice in place while the bill is before lawmakers.

“We thank the Legislature for including key changes in the bills, and urge lawmakers to actualize the community reinvestment, equity in the industry, and access to expungement in the final bill language. We also urge the Assembly to immediately pass A1897/S2535 to decriminalize cannabis. As legislation to create a new regulated marketplace advances, justice cannot be left behind.