Lawmakers Push for Social Justice in Cannabis Legalization Efforts

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

As New Jersey’s legalization bill heads for a vote in the legislature with robust racial and social equity provisions this Monday, New York also considers the best path forward.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to legalize, tax and regulate adult-use of recreational cannabis in the state’s budget, but some lawmakers are raising concerns that his proposal lacks what New Jersey intends to accomplish.

Cuomo’s plan (albeit social justice) would cap the number of cultivations, distribution and retail licenses allowed in the state and prohibit vertical integration for businesses. Regulation and licensing of the new industry would occur in a proposed Office of Cannabis Management, a new state entity that would oversee the industry.

The proposal levies a 20-percent state tax and a 2-percent county tax on cannabis wholesalers. Tax revenue would fund a state traffic safety committee, small business development and substance abuse services.

Digging deeper, the New Jersey legislation includes the expungement of an individual’s past cannabis-related conviction record to ensure minority communities reap (benefit from) the economic benefits of legalization. Least you feel you have misread the prior sentence, let’s examine its justification as explained by Bill Caruso, founding member of the New Jersey United Marijuana Reform organization:

“The success of the industry is really built upon how well it thrives in all communities, not just certain communities. Diversity as an economic advantage is important. But from a fairness standpoint, we have been locking up black and brown people at four times the rate that we’ve been doing so for their white counterparts, despite no difference in use … because of inherent racism. If we’re going to start to cure some of those ills, we have to make sure we don’t continue to repeat the same process by now legalizing and shutting out those same people (ex-offenders) from the industry going forward.”

On March 18th, New Jersey lawmakers agreed with the above premise, further clarified the limits of expungement (if any) while calling for the dismissal of all pending criminal cases involving possession of up to five pounds of cannabis, and prohibiting employers from considering any past cannabis convictions during the hiring process. A vote is scheduled this Monday.

Caruso couldn’t be more pleased. ‘Listen, if you were guilty of selling dime bags on the street yesterday and today, we’ve got a nice, glitzy storefront where it’s legal to sell, not only should you have the ability to have your record expunged, but you should be welcomed in this industry.’ We absolutely want to include folks like that in the industry.”

At the moment some of our state legislators are not overly excited on legalizing recreational marijuana and, as a result, Governor Cuomo removed the potential revenue benefits gained, from the current budget. Will New York eventually follow what New Jersey hopes to accomplish? Hopefully not. Legalization, in my opinion is a very bad idea. Allowing prior offenders to obtain cannabis licenses to sell the product is ludicrous. We’re losing it!        

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