Advocates push for social justice in marijuana legalization bill

Senate Bill 2703 — to legalize adult recreational marijuana use — was speeding toward a vote next Monday. But in reality, a lack of support and negotiations over amendments, has sent that plan up in smoke.

“We’re doing a couple of things. There’s a seismic shift in public policy and the creation of a new industry,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “That’s when you really do what to get it right. I think the goal has always been to do just that and make sure we get it right. And if that takes a little more time than we anticipated, so be it.

Among the talks under way is how to address the blacks and browns disproportionately arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for marijuana. Also how to make sure adult legalization adequately includes them for licensing to make a profit from what would become legal.

“Social equity is designed, really, to make sure that there is an even playing field, if you will. It’s designed, really, to assist those in having some opportunity in this industry that they didn’t have in the past, and may not have unless a social equity component is in place,” said Ray Hamlin, bill language advisor.

Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley wrote what it calls a race- and gender-neutral social equity, not diversity, amendment for the bill on behalf the New Jersey Minority Alliance — a clause that would grant access to licenses based on the economics of traditionally underserved communities.

“There may be other folks that have been affected that doesn’t necessarily include the individuals when we talk about diversity. Veterans, I think, are a part of diversity, which is great, and there is nothing that is negative as it relates to that, but not all veterans have been affected by the failed war on drugs. Not all women have been affected by the failed war on drugs. And you may have some people live in certain areas who have been affected by the failed war on drugs,” Hamlin said.

One lawmaker involved in the negotiations of the adult legalization bill says the talks are going well and that the bill includes both diversity and social equity language.

“I think the negotiations are going very well,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake. “There is a lot of support and like-minded individuals that definitely do what to see that segment of the population make whole through this. Our speaker has been leading negotiations and he’s been very inclusive.”

But, Sen. Ron Rice says regardless of what you call it, it amounts to a set aside and won’t stand up if challenged in court.

“If we’re going to argue that economic justice on marijuana, go get a piece of weed that’s illegal now. You’re fighting for something in the future. By the time you realize that we may not even have legalization of recreational marijuana, all the economic justice and the money being paid out is going to be gone,” Rice said.

Rice favors decriminalization instead of adult legalization. He’s calling on the nonpartisan State Office of Legislative Services to follow another law and prepare a racial impact statement of the adult legalization bill.

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