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New Jersey must do more to achieve racial justice and equity to legalize cannabis

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The following is a guest contribution and reflect the authors Views alone. For information on how to apply to the Opinion section, click over here.

New Jersey enacts cannabis legalization in 2021, promising to create a recreational market for cannabis grounded in social and racial justice. After decades of criminalizing cannabis and disproportionately detaining members of the black and brown communities, the state promised compensation.

Eighteen months later, the state has made significant profits: $4.6 million in tax revenue during the first ten weeks of selling cannabis. But on its promises of social justice and racial justice? It’s a mixed record, at best. While the state has radically curbed the arrests, it has a lot to do to open up the legal cannabis trade to the communities it promised to benefit.

First, the good news. When it comes to reducing the number of people arrested for cannabis, the state has succeeded. One of the hallmarks of the New Jersey cannabis law is its strict restrictions on arrests for personal possession of cannabis as well as petty dealings. The law prohibits police from arresting people for possession of cannabis for personal use, and requires police officers to issue warnings to low-ranking dealers after they commit the first offense.

As a result, the country has seen a significant reduction in the number of people arrested for possession and selling small amounts of cannabis. newly Report Politico of New Jersey found that arrests for selling less than an ounce fell from about 1,000 per year to about 23 per year. Similarly, while there were about 19,000 arrests a year for possession of less than 50 grams of cannabis, today it is legal to possess an ounce or less, and there are only 217 arrests a year for possession of more than six ounces. New Jersey still needs to release information on the demographics of people arrested for cannabis use to determine whether racial disparities in arrests persist, but in terms of the size of arrests alone, this is promising.

But there’s also bad news: When it comes to ensuring equality in New Jersey’s growing cannabis market, the gap is wide between promises made and promises made. One of the main policy goals promoted by the state was its commitment to creating a cannabis industry that would benefit communities that have historically faced the brunt of the war on drugs—primarily low-income black and Latino communities. during banIn New Jersey, blacks were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. These racial differences in arrests were not due to differences in consumption rates. Instead, they were motivated by the police and broader criminal justice practices. The Cannabis Regulatory Authoritywhich oversees cannabis licenses in the state, has repeatedly stated that achieving justice is one of its main goals, including by prioritizing “social justice companies.”

However, these well-meaning promises have not yet translated into equity on the ground. Applicants for work from communities damaged by decades of the failed war on marijuana must now compete with multinational companies that have significant access to resources and capital. As a result, it has been Incredibly difficult For people living in the state with arrest records that resulted from the war on drugs to now be able to benefit from the downsizing of that unjust war. according to New Jersey Advance MediaAll 19 Recreational cannabis dispensaries in New Jersey are owned by eight multi-state operators.

In general, starting a cannabis business is very expensive, but in New Jersey it is particularly difficult for two reasons: first, real estate prices are high in the state, and second, three out of four New Jersey municipalities, including Princeton, have chosen not to allow the cannabis business in their cities. This in turn made competition for real estate only worst. Add the fact that the federal government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, so financial institutions will not provide start-up capital BusinessOnly the wealthy can enter the New Jersey cannabis market.

New Jersey still has time to establish shares in the cannabis industry. subordinate 102 conditional licenses Granted by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission in May and June, one-third of the owners have prior marijuana convictions, 37 of the majority owners are black-owned, and 13 self-identify as majority-owned Hispanic.

But these conditional licenses are meaningless if license holders cannot muster the resources to actually open a business. At the state level, policymakers should make it easier for people who live with a marijuana registry or who come from communities that have faced the brunt of the marijuana war to access capital to start a local cannabis business. Governor Murphy recently signed a file law Project Sponsored by Senate President Nicholas Scutari that allows low-interest grants and loans to small business cannabis applicants who were previously barred from receiving economic incentives due to the federal cannabis ban, but more is needed.

For starters, New Jersey should follow in New York’s footsteps and allocate $200 million to a social cannabis fund that can provide startup capital to applicants who come from communities historically targeted by the war on marijuana, and a fund should also create a technical assistance program and foundation fee waivers to help applicants from These societies, like recommended Most recently by the New Jersey Civil Liberties Union. else idea is to require multi-state operators who own a New Jersey cannabis business to contribute some of their profits to a fund that will help provide capital for local businesses.

But the onus also falls on municipalities, which control local zoning laws and can create incentives for cannabis businesses owned and operated by people living with a cannabis arrest record. I sat in the cannabis task force set up by the Princeton municipality, and recommended that Princeton create such incentives to address the impact of the War on Drugs on Princeton. like the state, Princeton There were persistent and even severe racial disparities in cannabis arrests. From 1995 to 2019, there were racial disparities in arrests every year except for one, and from 2000 to 2013, Princeton had the second-highest racial disparity in Mercer County. Although the scale of arrests has never been high, more than 50 percent of all Princeton cannabis possession cases have been black in several years. But unfortunately, after facing pressure from some residents, the town dissolved the task force and never acted on any of its recommendations.

New Jersey should do better when it comes to supporting local residents who live with a cannabis arrest record and who want to open a cannabis business. The federal government cannot wait to legalize or de-schedule cannabis. It’s time for New Jersey to make adjustments and make sure that those who profit under cannabis legalization are those who have suffered the most under the cannabis ban.

Udi Ofer is a visiting professor and lecturer at the John L. Weinberg School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) at Princeton, and founder of SPIA’s Policy Advocacy Clinic. Prior to joining Princeton University, he served as a civil rights attorney for the ACLU for 20 years, serving as Deputy National Political Director and founding director of the Justice Department, which leads advocacy efforts for criminal justice reform at the ACLU. He can be reached at uofer@princeton.edu.

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