The Other Marijuana Legalization Conversation

There have been a myriad of important conversations about marijuana legalization — a top Murphy administration priority — since the elections. There have been estimates of how much revenue such a move might bring in. There have been discussions of potential snags in the NJ Democratic coalition. And we’ve watched in horror as Jeff Sessions has put the issue back on the national radar, and wondered how that will affect New Jersey’s efforts. But I was particularly pleased to see Bill Caruso address the racial justice components of marijuana legalization during a recent pro / con debate at the Courier-Post. Caruso writes:

New Jersey has a chance to do something profoundly different than other states that have previously taxed and regulated marijuana for adult use. Our location, experience in pharma and agriculture, a highly educated workforce and proximity to a large consumer market give New Jersey a significant advantage. But, in order for this economic success to be felt by all New Jerseyans, we must make sure that we create an industry that is as diverse as our state.

For starters, we must address the expungement of current criminal records of those convicted of previous marijuana crimes to ensure that these individuals can contribute to society. We must ensure that the revenue raised through new taxes on marijuana is properly reinvested to rebuild communities hardest hit by the war on marijuana. We need to develop a fair licensure system that attracts out-of-state expertise and investment but does not exclude New Jersey residents, in particular women and minorities as has been the case in almost every state that has legalized. And, we must ensure safe, affordable access for patients including the ability to grow at home.

In many ways, marijuana legalization is a peek into the type of progressive policies the Murphy administration will champion. Legalization is likely a progressive win — it brings in revenue, lessons a source of deep inequity (arrests that target communities of color), and is popular. But Murphy has a second opportunity, which is to attempt to leverage the popularity of this bill into a deeper progression vision — investment in communities that have been hardest hit by the war on drugs, and justice through tools like expungement.

The marijuana legalization effort is a small part of the wider reveal of how Murphy will govern. Will he stick to the relatively safer popular progressive win? Will he attempt to leverage that win into a wider progressive package of policies that pursues racial justice? Is such an effort possible or good strategy? I’d love to hear from our Blue Jersey community about what you think will happen (and what you think should happen).

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