NJ’s urban mayors want increased focus on social justice aspect of marijuana legalization

Briana Vannozzi, Anchor | September 6, 2018 | Politics

The requests come as the state quickly moves closer to legalizing recreational marijuana use, but proponents say the struggle to get there has had less to do with medicinal benefits or revenue projections and more over righting historic wrongs.

“We still believe it falls very short of what we think it needs to be in order to have the support of the city of Newark and other cities as well,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Baraka released a letter to lawmakers urging them to strengthen social justice issues in any future bills for adult use — specifically expungement and lifting jail sentences for people convicted of marijuana-related offenses, and allowing those with prior convictions to be eligible for future distribution licenses.

“It just makes no sense that we would allow people to make millions of dollars off cannabis while others are languishing in jail because of this very thing,” Baraka said.

But other urban mayors signing on to the letter also want home rule, and that includes municipalities getting a larger percent of generated tax revenue, should legalization happen.

“We think it needs to be a fair dollar amount. The proposals down in Trenton today propose 1 percent for the host municipality, which really doesn’t do anything. When you look around the country, you see numbers closer to 5 percent,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

“The money we get, the 5 percent, obviously should be used around education, used around training, job training programs, pipelines for people to find their way into this industry who are traditionally going to be locked out if we don’t do anything about what’s happening now,” Baraka said.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla says he’s on board because his city has the highest racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests in Hudson County and revenue could go toward programs to change that.

“I also stand here today to ask the state Legislature to give municipalities authority to decide how many cannabis licenses are appropriate for their communities, to gain a fair share of tax revenue generated by the sale and also use those revenues as investments locally,” Bhalla said.

They’re proposing social impact zones to compensate people in areas damaged by the drug war and marijuana prohibition. Both Gov. Phil Murphy and leading lawmakers have indicated their priorities toward social justice.

“Parameters mean that it can’t be masked as social justice where you have big corporations coming from elsewhere in the country, hiding behind a veil of social justice, saying it’s social justice, but really just, it’s just about making money,” said Fulop.

So as the state appears to move closer and closer to legalizing recreational marijuana use, expect to see more efforts like this to ensure the law gets it right.