The bill that will set the framework for the legal recreational marijuana industry in New Jersey advanced Thursday. A vote by the full Assembly is set for Monday.
But before the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted to release the bill for a full vote, members heard from the public, especially those looking to enter the industry.
Carl Burwell owns Garden State Hemp, a retail CBD store in Millburn. He said this bill doesn’t help the little guy. “I feel that the microlicenses and even more so the conditional licenses, policies and language can be taken advantage of by larger multi-state operators,” he said, “who can now enter the New Jersey market without having to allocate as large of a budget up front to accomplish it, just another way to squeeze out small business owners.”
Other cannabis activists were concerned that this bill will not do enough to promote minority owned shops, and that medical marijuana shops will have a big head start, simply flipping over to recreational weed.
Other complaints focused on making sure communities that have racked up the most marijuana arrests will benefit from the tax revenue of legalization. Tauhid Chappell, a cannabis activist and patient, said the bill doesn’t do enough to help turn dealers into business owners. “We need to be intentional up front to insure that the people that are being supported and impacted by legalization have the necessary abilities, the technical assistance, and the funding and the support, to actually transition from the illicit market to the legal market,” he said.
Jessica Gonzalez, a New Jersey attorney with a focus in this area, questioned whether a tax on weed meant to benefit minority communities will actually do that. “In order for this new social excise fee to work the way that it’s intended,” she said, “there must be social equity applicant status to make it abundantly clear who these communities are. There’s no promise or guarantee at this moment that the communities most affected by cannabis prohibition will benefit from any money derived from tax revenue.”
Other activists criticized the limit on the number of recreational weed businesses that will be allowed, saying it won’t be enough to meet demand, and will drive people elsewhere for marijuana.