When the Garden State opted to go green last week, its political leaders apparently paid attention. State officials are already on the move to get legal joints in the hands of New Jerseyans ASAP.
Last Tuesday, New Jersey residents voted to legalize recreational cannabis by a sizable majority. That’s great news, of course! But, as other states (like Maine) have unfortunately proven, a pro-pot vote can get bogged down for years by red tape and other political mess-making.
New Jersey officeholders seem determined to not let that happen, however. On Friday, Sen. Nick Scutari and Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced a 216-page bill that details the plans for instituting and overseeing New Jersey’s imminent multibillion-dollar marijuana marketplace.
Hearings on the bill are scheduled for today in both the state Senate and Assembly, where topics such as licensing and taxes are slated to be discussed.
As the bill stands, some of its core stipulations include: Adults over 21 will be able to purchase or possess up to one ounce of marijuana or five ounces of concentrated cannabis; retail stores will be allowed to open anywhere in the state, but local jurisdictions can ban them; delivery services can operate anywhere in the state despite local bans; and retailers will be allowed to offer on-site consumption as long as local regulations are okay with it.
While the rapid pace of the proceedings is exciting, some observers are urging patience to make sure that the bill properly is properly equitable.
Critics of the bill point out that much of the tax revenue will be directed toward law enforcement and that its licensing specifics may favor big companies over new and independent businesses. Furthermore, the bill’s restorative justice measures are under intense scrutiny — as they should be.
To its credit, the bill does call for the establishment of the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Cannabis Business Development to promote and monitor the inclusion of marginalized populations.
Still, the ACLU of New Jersey tweeted on Saturday, “The bill was posted Friday less than 24 hours ago, giving the public 0 business days to review 200 pages. More to come as we complete our review, but it seems key racial and social justice provisions need strengthening or are missing… The process must be transparent, democratic, and inclusive.”
In a related key move this past Friday, New Jersey cannabis advocate Gov. Phil Murphy announced his picks for who will head up a new regulatory commission to oversee the state’s incoming weed bonanza.
Dianna Houenou, Murphy said, will chair the commission. Houenou is an associate counsel and senior policy adviser to the governor, and she previously served as policy counsel for the ACLU-NJ.
Jeff Brown, Murphy added, will act as the commission’s executive director. Brown is presently assistant commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Health, and he oversees the state’s medical marijuana program.
“The legalization of adult-use marijuana is a matter of social justice, economic justice and racial justice,” Brown said, following Murphy’s announcement. “It is a matter of criminal justice reform. It is a matter of common sense.”
Maybe we’re all still a little giddy (and, okay, maybe also still a little stoned) from celebrating last week’s other big electoral news, but are we experiencing a bona fide moment of real democracy? Because we’ll smoke to that!