Legal weed is a social equity business. And failure is not an option | Editorial
The recreational cannabis industry is poised to take off, which means New Jersey is poised to hit hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of a mostly benign product that has helped destroy countless lives in our neighborhoods and in the worlds beyond.
That doesn’t mean the adult-use marijuana industry won’t be profitable and desirable to our state, but amid the cheering anticipation of this massive enterprise, it should be remembered that this historic step must be aimed at restoring the social, economic and racial situation. Justice.
Simply put, it can be an economic boon for the state as a whole, but it’s also a moment of recovery for the people and communities who have been gutted by this harmless drug.
And so far, it’s been a temporary boost.
A positive sign is the consistency with which the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has emphasized social equity in its regulations and messaging. Thursday’s launch announcement was no different: CRC President Dianna Houenou promised that this industry will be built “on the pillars of social equity and safety” and that the company will “reflect the diversity of the state”.
It is helpful to review what this means and to remember that the eye of vigilance, as Jefferson said, must never be closed.
The law states that 30% of recreational marijuana licenses must go to minorities – women, disabled veterans and people of color – and the CRC issued in its recent approval 68 conditional licenses, 33 of which were awarded for black entrepreneurs and 9 others for Latinos.
This prevents large out-of-state operators from dominating the market, but these licenses are only one way in. Small businesses still need to find a site, get municipal approval, and apply for a full annual license.
And since they only have four months to do so, they might need some help.
The Reverend Charles Boyer, founder of Salvation and Social Justice, believes that the state should provide these start-ups with seed capital, “which means access to interest-free, low-interest loans for expansion,” he said. “That kind of long-term support is going to be essential.”
Indeed, New York State just created a $200 million equity fund for that purpose, and advocates believe that’s something New Jersey can do. The CRC said it was working with the Economic Development Authority, but we haven’t heard any details. But it’s worth nothing that the EDA gave a medical marijuana dispensary a $357,000 loan in 2013.
In summary: “If we really want to achieve equity, it has to be a really intentional goal – and it’s money, it’s prioritization, it’s the removal of certain fees, it’s having a real technical assistance,” said the ACLU’s Ami Kachalia.
The state is correcting our most egregious mistake: Last summer, the Courts Administration Office began expunging the records of 360,000 people arrested for marijuana. It’s unclear, however, how many remain incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses (there are 40,000 nationwide), and Governor Murphy has yet to respond to requests for clemency from organizations in nonprofits such as the Last Prisoner Project, who shouldn’t need reminding him. that New Jersey arrested blacks at 3.5 times the white rate for marijuana, despite similar usage rates.
These people will need jobs, so the CRC has told medical cannabis facilities licensed for recreational sale that they will be evaluated on diversity in hiring and management, and their records will be regularly reviewed. published on the CRC website.
Additionally, the law states that 60% of recreational market tax revenue must go to “impact zones,” which are the areas hardest hit by previous marijuana laws. The formula is set by law and based on population, crime rate and percentage of marijuana arrests.
The CRC held three regional public hearings in March to seek input on how the state should spend the revenue, and the suggestions were as diverse as New Jersey itself. But let’s be clear: For decades, the war on drugs has driven massive investments in a criminal justice system that funneled people into prisons wholesale. Now is the time to reinvest in the communities shattered by this war and use the proceeds for civic priorities such as education, social services and health care.
As Kachalia said, “You don’t get equity unless you prioritize it from the start. When they built industries in Colorado and Washington State, they weren’t equity driven. It’s like baking a cake and then trying to fix it. You can’t say equity will come. It must be baked in each layer from the start.
If you want to know how easily this can be messed up, the cautionary tales are everywhere.
Social fairness is a fantasy in Illinois, where the industry is dominated by big producers, and the flawed lottery system that determines licensing rewards has been stymied by a torrent of lawsuits. For good reason: when the first list of winners of the licenses for recreational sales was announced in 2020, it did not contain any people of color. And while lawmakers who promised diversity are scratching their heads, Illinois is a national joke.
Or consider California, where 75% of all marijuana is still sold on the black market after six years of legal weed: in its largest jurisdictions, only a fraction (8%) of businesses are run by licensees. The Los Angeles Times reports that programs run by Black and Latino entrepreneurs “have been plagued by a lack of funding, changing requirements, and severe delays in processing applications, often creating additional challenges and barriers to instead of removing them.
We have no doubt that the CRC, led by smart people, is learning from these fiascos.
Reverend Boyer, who brings a healthy skepticism to any discussion, says he’s “extremely optimistic about the future” because he thinks the New Jersey market “will have one of the strongest – if not the strongest – social equity component of the country”.
But we have to prove it every day. Let’s make sure we get it right – with justice as our beacon – and bring everyone into the circle of opportunity that belongs to them. Let’s give the rest of the country a virtuous jolt and make them take notes.
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