As a New York-based cannabis entrepreneur, I celebrated as New Jersey's vote to legalize adult use cannabis passed by large margins last month. Unfortunately, that joy quickly soured: Legislators put forth a plan – A-21/S-21 – that lacked key social equity provisions won in other states, including allocating funds to help communities harmed by the War on Drugs and clear opportunities for minority communities to participate in the industry.
The bill has since been amended after activists sounded the alarm and demanded change. The senate passed S21 on Dec. 14 with excise tax and a big portion of cannabis sales tax revenue funding services for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. However, much remains about licensing and other provisions that will make the cannabis industry in New Jersey truly equitable.
What should have been an inspiring moment for the East Coast has turned into another battle to ensure the minority communities and the small business community can participate in the cannabis industry. I fear New York might follow suit in a mad dash for legalization if our New Jersey counterparts are unable to persuade lawmakers to revise the bill to include stronger social equity measures.
After all the calls for social justice this summer, it is unthinkable that New Jersey would even consider cannabis legislation without regard to the harm caused by prohibition. If social justice provisions don’t make their way into the bill, it would be a missed opportunity to set a new standard of inclusion and equity for all. New York cannot forget communities hit hardest by prohibition as they weigh legalization, including pathways to licensing for Black and brown entrepreneurs, automatic expungement for non-cannabis convictions, and support for small businesses and independent entrepreneurs.