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New Jersey Wants Social Equity To Be Part Of Its Cannabis Program, Are Big Weed Companies On Board?

Even though marijuana sales are legal in New Jersey, members of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) have made it clear that they are not satisfied with how things are shaking out. Municipal rejection of dispensaries, rising real estate prices and lack of access to capital are some of the key issues affecting the growth of the industry.

Economic And Social Justice Are Also Issues

As embodied in state law and underlined by the CRC, when cannabis sales became legal in the Garden State, it was time to fulfill the promise of helping those disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, decriminalizing cannabis, eliminating registrations and implementing economic justice.

According to CRC Commissioner Charles Barker, who recently spoke directly to the cannabis companies at a monthly meeting, the state is not upholding its commitments to patient access, social equity and collective bargaining agreements.

However, far from fulfilling that promise, the state now faces the following problem: the market is controlled by a collection of large cannabis companies, which have operated as alternative treatment centers (medical marijuana dispensaries) before adult-use weed was legalized.

As NJ.com True Jersey reported, “these multi-state operators, MSOs, are making billions of dollars off of a plant that Black and Hispanic people were incarcerated for in the War on Drugs.”

Social Equity Matters

Amber Littlejohn, former director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association agreed that “mass predation is going on and really hyper-protectionist practices (…) It’s really counterproductive because if you keep people out of the market, they’re not leaving the market, they’re just not going to be legal.”

She pointed out that inclusion is the way to go.

“If you are actively working against inclusion in this industry you are not for social equity and no hiring of a Black person to run your social equity department is going to change that.”

Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, the state’s largest trade group representing smaller cannabis businesses, agreed that MSOs are not compatible with community needs.

“There have been several occasions where we as the New Jersey cannabis community have recognized that multistate operators do not fulfill the expectations that we’ve had as a state with respect to engaging in communities of color. That means hiring. That means making a commitment to work with community-based organizations.”

Recently, Curaleaf Holdings CURLF, New Jersey’s largest cannabis operator, promoted a job fair initiative in Trenton with a goal of having 10 percent of its employees come from communities affected by the War on Drugs. “We have been a cooperative and collaborative partner at every turn, and a responsive and reliable corporate citizen to our footprint communities, the commission, and the state of New Jersey,” said Curaleaf in an emailed statement.

Social Equity Initiatives: Expungement Clinics

Expungement clinics are sites where people can come and get their records cleared of cannabis convictions as a result of the legislation decriminalizing cannabis in certain amounts. Michael Hoffman, a lawyer who has been working in the expungement clinics throughout the state, said “the overall cannabis market can also be more proactive by marketing links to expungement services through their stores and on packages they sell.”

Trade Unions

Hugh Giordano, organizing director of UFCW Local 360, said “some of the larger companies have failed to do collective bargaining in good faith.” Giordano, who represents cannabis workers in New Jersey, also noted that good faith negotiations included making union talks available to all employees rather than a small portion. “Make it a fair conversation so that the majority of the workers have the opportunity to hear us,” he added.

“When you’re coming into the state touting equity and justice and that’s what your company stands for, then it shouldn’t be a problem when we bring up wages [and] providing healthcare (…) If you can’t do these basics, then you probably shouldn’t be in business,” Giordano concluded.

Photo: Courtesy Of Matt Nelson on Unsplash

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