New Jersey, despite its left-leaning politics and proximity to one of the world’s largest urban centers, has lagged behind in cannabis. As the 11th-largest state in the country by population, New Jersey has fewer than 14 medical cannabis dispensaries serving close to 100,000 patients. Possession of marijuana was just decriminalized there last year.
Garden State cannabis also has a racial equity problem. Black residents are between two and three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana despite relatively equal rates of use across races. In some counties, Black people are arrested over 30 times more frequently for cannabis, according to a 2020 report from the ACLU of New Jersey.
New Jersey passed legalization in November’s election by a landslide—more than two in three voters approved. But state cannabis advocates are now calling out serious shortcomings in the proposed A-21/S-21 bill, saying it doesn’t do enough to address the harsh repercussions of the drug war and will keep minority and disadvantaged small businesses from participating in the upcoming industry.
What’s in (and not in) A-21/S-21?
“[The bill] has been introduced as the most progressive cannabis legislation in the country yet it falls short of substantive social equity provisions seen in other states,” said Jessica Gonzalez, General Counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), in an email to Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
“The bill is riddled with vague language and predatory programs aimed at minority communities while increasing the barriers to entry,” said Gonzalez. Specifically, she identified five points where it falls short:
Lack of allocation of cannabis tax revenue to communities harmed by prohibition. For contrast, consider Illinois, where the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew program (R3) uses 25% of state cannabis tax revenue to provide community grants.
Limited definitions of “impact zones.” These