After New Jerseyans resoundingly endorsed adult use of recreational marijuana, legislation to enact the will of the people passed key committees in both the Assembly and State Senate.
A-21 was passed by the Assembly Federal Relations and Oversight Reform Committee, while S-21 passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“This is an historic step forward for New Jersey,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) upon approval in the Senate. “With the public’s approval, we will be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made safe and legal for adults.
The cannabis law and operations would be governed by a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will adopt regulations to govern the industry. The commission will include three members appointed by the Governor and one each recommended by the Assembly Speaker and the Senate President.
Sweeney said the creation of a new cannabis industry in New Jersey with growers, processors, wholesalers and retailers could create thousands of jobs in sales, production and related services. Municipalities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities.
In addition to doing away with criminal penalties that have been disproportionately imposed on minority communities, the bill includes other social justice provisions, including the designation of “impact zones” with preference for new cannabis businesses, and incentives for minorities, women and disabled veterans to participate in the industry.
The estimated $127 million now spent in New Jersey to enforce marijuana laws could be used by law enforcement to combat serious crimes.
Focus on Social Justice
The legislation passed in the Assembly would legalize the consumption, transportation, and possession of cannabis by those over the age of 21. The sponsors of the bill, Assembly including Britnee N. Timberlake (D-34), Angela McKnight (D-31) and Benjie Wimberly (D-35), argued the bill would boost the local economy.
The economic driver of legal cannabis sales would push down the black market while opening new taxable revenue streams. Additionally, the job market would be open to more residents, which would be a part of improving social equality.
The legislation creates an Office of Minority, Disabled, Veterans and Women Business Development to promote diversity in the marketplace ensuring women, minorities, and veterans a seat at the table.
Impact Zones and Protections
The legislation would not permit public consumption, and municipalities would be given the right to prohibit cannabis businesses from operating in their communities.
Impact Zones would be created to provide a 25% set-aside for applicants residing in impact zones to issue licenses to local business owners.
“The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of black and brown people and affecting families irreparably for decades. This legislation also aims to correct the economic and social justice disparities surrounding cannabis use. This hearing marks the first step toward a greater goal,” said Wimberly.