In February 2021, New Jersey became the 13th state to legalize cannabis for adult use. This shift in policy came after years of advocacy by community members and advocates who brought attention to the racially disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition and the decades of harm caused to Black and brown communities in New Jersey. Community members, advocates, and an overwhelming majority of the public advocated to not only legalize cannabis, but to do so in a way that begins to repair past harms and builds an inclusive and equitable marketplace.
Lawmakers made significant strides towards cannabis justice in the bills passed earlier this year, and the next phase of work for New Jersey includes allocating funding toward social and racial justice needs and the creation of an equitable, inclusive cannabis industry. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (S21/A21) granted the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) the power to help fulfil the social justice promises of legalization by creating equity in the cannabis industry through regulatory and administrative processes. The CRC– charged with monitoring the development, regulation, and enforcement of the industry – is therefore empowered to position New Jersey as a leader in creating an inclusive, equitable, and diverse cannabis marketplace. We applaud the CRC for convening a public meeting to solicit input on this issue within the first month of its operation, as well as the promise to hold additional public meetings on equity in the future. In this moment, as the CRC shapes the New Jersey marketplace through regulation, its Commissioners must ensure that equitable access to opportunity is built into every facet of New Jersey’s cannabis market.
Data and reports from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis before New Jersey illustrate the importance of prioritizing equity from the beginning of the regulatory process. In states that were among the earliest to legalize cannabis, the lack of intentionally built equity frameworks in the marketplace resulted in industries dominated by white business owners.1 Regulators in those jurisdictions are now working to create initiatives aimed at strengthening fairness, but are doing so in already saturated markets, and face elevated start-up costs and limited real estate availability. New Jersey can build a more inclusive marketplace from the start, by creating a robust equity program that results in a cannabis industry reflective of the diversity of the Garden State.
ACLU-NJ offers the following recommendations to ensure that cannabis revenue is meaningfully invested in communities most harmed by the War on Drugs, and that the state conducts effective public education and outreach related to the new cannabis laws and processes and builds equity into New Jersey’s cannabis market. While these recommendations are a meaningful start, achieving true equity within New Jersey’s cannabis marketplace is an ongoing and iterative process that will require flexibility and innovation