Recently, some concern was expressed regarding a lack of diversity in New Jersey marijuana license approvals. There is currently a U.S. congressman seeking answers from regulators in New Jersey about why the 56 cannabis retailer licenses that state regulators have approved have not gone to one black business owner. This is ironic, considering these are the communities most impacted by the marijuana prohibition.
During a press release last week, Rep Donald Payne (D-NJ) stated how outraged he is to hear that currently, Black-owned business owners have been left entirely out of New Jersey’s marijuana marketplace. Then he noted that it is tremendously more likely that black people get arrested for cannabis despite comparable rates of joint papers being burned amongst the other races.
Payne says New Jersey has the opportunity to correct this inequality and make this mistake right. He states that New Jersey can do this by allowing the prominent people abused by these unfair laws in the system to benefit from marijuana legalization. Payne says that that begins with distributing marijuana business licenses fairly, which is not what’s happening. Instead, we are witnessing the same inequality with marijuana licenses that have been happening in cannabis arrests.
Although New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program has been active for over a decade, the adult-use market has not come online just yet while regulators are currently working on implementing a 2020 reform referendum approved by voters.
Paye stated how Gov. Phil Murphy (D) promised that New Jersey’s marijuana industry would correct the wrongs of the past concerning social injustice, and now it is time for the state to keep this promise.
At the same time, this statement is made by the congressman’s office, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, bringing attention to the lack of diversity in New Jersey’s cannabis industry.
After the vote for recreationally legalizing marijuana in the state, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission or the CRC received an overflow of hundreds of applications to start cannabis businesses. Advocates hoped that the promise of reform would help be met, and New Jersey would correct the damage done by marijuana criminalization, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color more than other communities.
“People have the right to know what’s going on,” says John Harmon during a press release, who happens to be the President of African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. Before also stating that based on the conversations he’s had with stakeholders, currently, none of the 56 approved licenses have been awarded to Black business owners, and it’s not for lack of trying.
Harmon says that many black-owned businesses have been vigorously attempting to get into the marijuana industry since back in 2012, when marijuana became legal for medicinal purposes in the state of New Jersey. The worst part is that not one black-owned business ever received a license back then. Still, no one has obtained a license after legalizing marijuana for recreational use currently.
“The CRC needs to expedite its review and award of the licenses submitted. Minimally, the CRC must immediately score and notify applicants of their conditional status. If necessary, additional resources must be allocated to the license review process so that applicants cease to be adversely impacted financially by an unjustifiably protracted process.”
Paid supports the commerce organization saying he joins them in their outrage about this unfathomable inequality that plagues our society, our state, and our entire country.
But, New Jersey currently isn’t the only state facing pushback about not actively meeting the equality goals and promises as legal marijuana markets are getting launched.
For example, the state of Illinois is facing criticism from advocates and lawsuits from cannabis business applicants who feel that officials aren’t doing enough to ensure there is diversity among marijuana licenses for business owners within the industry.
Last year, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to build on Illinois’ legalization law by creating more marijuana business licensing opportunities. Doing so would help those people who were in disproportionately impacted communities to be able to get a foot into the cannabis industry. Therefore, state regulators have held a series of lotteries to award additional dispensary licenses. But, all the losing businesses have since filed different kinds of legal challenges to the process.
Meanwhile, states like New York have been taking steps to guarantee equity is at the core of its adult-use cannabis program, which was signed into law just last year. Recently even Democratic Senator of New York, Chuck Schumer, met with marijuana equity groups to clarify that he is about to put in play a much-needed and highly anticipated marijuana legalization bill. He also stated that he is open to changing some of the small policies only on the condition that equity plans are added to them.
Or take Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), for instance. Hochul announced earlier this month that she and her administration is in the process of creating a two hundred million dollar public-private fund to help promote social equity, specifically within New York’s burgeoning cannabis market. That’s not all. Governors of several states around the country are pushing for marijuana reform, legalization, and implementation for 2023. These states include Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Wisconsin.