NJ CAN 2020 Aims to Advance the Social Justice Conversation Ahead of New Jersey’s Cannabis Legalization Vote This Fall: Legalization Watch

NJ CAN 2020 Aims to Advance the Social Justice Conversation Ahead of New Jersey’s Cannabis Legalization Vote This Fall: Legalization Watch

The campaign is supporting the state’s 2020 ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis and plans to lobby for social equity policies if voters approve the issue in November.

May 26, 2020

New Jersey’s cannabis advocates have united to form NJ CAN 2020, a campaign coalition that is not only supporting the state’s adult-use legalization ballot initiative this November, but also plans to lobby for social equity policies in the state’s adult-use marketplace if the measure is ultimately approved by voters.

The group includes members of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, which comprises the ACLU of New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Latino Action Network, American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, Law Enforcement Action Partnership and the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, as well as industry partners such as the NJ CannaBusiness Association, political strategists and other industry leaders.

“The roots of this campaign go back many, many years,” Bill Caruso, an attorney with Archer & Greiner and a member of both New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform and NJ CAN 2020, told Cannabis Business Times.

The cannabis legalization movement in New Jersey was largely founded on a racial and social justice discussion that had not yet fully taken hold in the early days of legalized cannabis, he says.

“The arrests that were going on … had a negative impact on the economy, and [there was] the prospect of revenue that would be both directly related to cannabis shops and then ancillary economies that would come around that would benefit the region,” he says.

The NJ CAN 2020 campaign brings new life to the social equity conversation in the state ahead of renewed efforts to legalize.

A legislative effort to legalize adult-use cannabis stalled in the New Jersey Senate last spring, prompting lawmakers to place the legalization question on the state’s 2020 ballot.

The initiative is a constitutional amendment that would broadly legalize adult-use cannabis in the state, as well as authorize a taxed and regulated system for distribution.

“It allows certain taxations for sales tax and a local tax, but doesn’t give a lot of detail on how the regulatory process works,” Caruso says. “That’ll be sorted out later.”

Therefore, NJ CAN 2020 has two main priorities: ensure the ballot measure is successful, and then work with industry stakeholders and the New Jersey Legislature to implement an adult-use marketplace with social equity at the forefront.

First and foremost, the campaign plans to use polling to see where there might be opposition and vulnerabilities. Although the campaign has yet to launch its first poll due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent poll conducted by Monmouth University found that 60% of respondents plan to vote in favor of New Jersey’s legalization initiative this fall, which Caruso finds encouraging.

If voters ultimately approve the legalization measure, NJ CAN 2020 will advocate for a robust automatic expungement process in the state’s forthcoming adult-use cannabis program, among other provisions.

“We’ve been advocating for a very long time on the issue of expunging criminal records—an automatic expungement process that goes back in time and erases some of these marijuana offenses off criminal records without the offender having to go back and jump through a lot of burdens,” Caruso says. “That has a cost associated with it, so cannabis revenue … helps [with] paying for that.”

The campaign would also like to see language included in the state’s adult-use cannabis law that allows ex-offenders to participate in the legal industry.

“All of these issues that we’ve been fighting for [will help] shape this industry in a positive way from a racial and social justice standpoint,” Caruso says. “This group is adamant about making sure those things are done."