A year ago, ZenLeaf in Elizabeth was one of 13 dispensaries that officially opened for recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey. Since then, sales have been nonstop, according to general manager Sonny Achrekar. “We’re always get new people in and now that the weather is getting better, we’re going to get all the people flying in because we get all the airport traffic. So it’s just consistent,” he said.
New Jersey cannabis regulators believe there's room to grow when it comes to getting people from economically-disadvantaged areas — especially those previously convicted of marijuana crimes — into the state's brand new legal weed industry.
According to statistics released by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission last week, over 72% of all cannabis licenses have gone to diversely-owned businesses, including more than two-thirds of all "annual" licenses."
Economic And Social Justice Are Also Issues
As embodied in state law and underlined by the CRC, when cannabis sales became legal in the Garden State, it was time to fulfill the promise of helping those disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, decriminalizing cannabis, eliminating registrations and implementing economic justice.
According to CRC Commissioner Charles Barker, who recently spoke directly to the cannabis companies at a monthly meeting, the state is not upholding its commitments to patient access, social equity and collective bargaining agreements.
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.
While it was known for some time that these white-owned businesses would be allowed to open first, social justice advocates were stung by the lack of businesses owned by Black, Indigenous or people of color, especially given the state’s continued reassurance and laws to ensure racial justice. According to Leafly’s 2021 Seeds of Change report, only 2% of the nation’s legally operated cannabis companies are Black-owned. Meanwhile, Black New Jerseyans are over three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts.
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.
The first licenses to sell recreational marijuana in New York will go to people who were casualties of the war on drugs, state officials said Wednesday.
People with marijuana-related convictions will get dibs on the first 100 to 200 retail cannabis licenses awarded by the state in an effort to redress the inequities of a justice system that locked up a disproportionate number of people of color for drug crimes.
But there’s a “huge catch” – the licensing fee is $3 million, noted Michelle Bodian, a senior associate attorney in Vicente Sederberg’s Boston and New York offices and the lead on Connecticut licensing.
“It’s a head-scratcher,” she said – and a huge barrier to entry.
The $3 million fee sticks out in a social equity program that otherwise is considered by some to be one of the best in the country in terms of promoting greater participation among minority entrepreneurs and individuals affected by the war on drugs.
The Cannabis Task Force met again on Thursday, December 16, and – despite a public opinion campaign in opposition to the group’s recent recommendations to Princeton Council – decided to stick with those recommendations.
The Task Force recommended that the town “allow no more than three retail medical and adult-use dispensaries, with a strong preference for at least one micro-license that has a social equity priority.”
The Black Cannabis Equity Initiative(BCEI) and the Capital City Area Black Caucus in conjunction with a host of community organizations, cannabis thought experts, business leaders and social equity voices from throughout New Jersey are sponsoring an Inside Cannabis Social Equity in New Jersey zoom discussion on Friday, September 10, 2021 from 3:00pm – 5:00pm(EST).