An East Orange resident is expressing disappointment after finding out plans for a legal marijuana dispensary in her hometown would have to be put on hold. Precious Osagie-Erese’s application was denied municipal approval, a major barrier many other Black and brown cannabis businesses are facing across the state.
East Orange City Council has approved a legal weed dispensary applicant represented by a lobbying firm belonging to New Jersey’s state Democratic Chair Leroy Jones Jr. while rejecting a local applicant who had pointed out that connection, a move that drew scorn from residents at a council meeting.
Jones, an East Orange resident, is chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee and the East Orange Democratic Municipal Committee Chairman. He’s also held the post of city administrator.
At the upcoming Monday East Orange City Council meeting, Osagie-Erese has called for residents and other cannabis advocates to challenge what they say could be a backdoor deal hiding in plain sight.
“We have been championing a safe and equitable New Jersey cannabis industry with an intentional focus to build and support our hometown,” Osagie-Erese said in a released statement.
Industry analysts say that it’s just the beginning of what is set to become very big business, not just in New Jersey, but in New York as well, and throughout the Northeast. A notable portion of the potentially mammoth profits are slated to benefit communities, mostly of color, that have been disproportionally impacted by marijuana arrests over the years.
But of those 13 medical marijuana dispensaries that were first allowed to open, none appear to be owned by Black and Brown operators — despite the state’s often-stated public commitment to racial equity.
“I am seeing a lot of the community…both celebrating an historic moment, but at the same time also waiting to utilize their dollar bills and put them forth to these minority-owned local operators,” said Jessica Gonzalez, an attorney for Hiller PC focusing on state cannabis licenses.
Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said it’s about ensuring the market is implemented properly. He also said it would ensure that homegrown New Jersey companies will not be overlooked for larger established companies coming from out of state.
“I think the commission has taken deliberate steps to make sure that we get it right,” DeVeaux said. “There was no playbook. Everyone is doing this for the first time”
Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist with the ACLU of New Jersey, suggested the commission establish a social equity applicant license status. That would prioritize people who have lived in cities and towns most hurt by marijuana prohibition, have been arrested themselves for marijuana or are in the immediate family of someone who was to become owners in the cannabis industry.
She also said the commission should set aside grants for those people as well as minorities.