Three mayors — Newark's Ras Baraka, Jersey City's Steve Fulop and Ravinder Bhalla of Hoboken —jointly released a letter Thursday urging legislators to strengthen social justice and equity measures in adult-use cannabis bills making their way through Trenton.
“While we all support the Legislature’s push toward legalization here in New Jersey and we think it’s long overdue [but] we still believe it falls very short from what it needs to be in order to have support of the city of Newark and other cities as well,” Baraka said at a press conference at Newark City Hall.
To get Newark’s approval, marijuana convictions for possession and distribution of any quantity should be expunged, and anyone presently incarcerated for marijuana-only convictions should be released from jail, he said.
“It just doesn’t make sense that we should allow people to make millions of dollars off of cannabis while others are languishing in jail because of this very thing,” said Baraka.
Among the states that have started to expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions are Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and California.
In addition to expungement, the mayors called for the creation of social impact zones, where fees to start a cannabis operation would be lower in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs. The mayors want the percentage of gross revenue from cannabis operations put back into the host municipalities increased from a proposed 1 percent to 5 percent, and they spoke of municipal self-determination, giving municipalities authority to decide the number and locations of dispensaries.
“Local governing bodies are the best equipped to reflect the will of their constituencies,” Baraka said.
Echoing some of Baraka’s statements, Fulop reflected on the war on drugs and how cannabis is an opportunity to right its wrongs.
“These 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 its social justice, but really it’s just about making money,” Fulop said. “Our position here today is that you need concrete steps included in that bill to make sure this is sincerely done properly and correcting what’s been done in the past.”
For the 5 percent gross revenue the mayors are requesting to be funneled back into municipalities, the mayors spoke of creating second-chance programs that provide job training and education.
“We’re not legalizing it simply to create another market to make money, we’re legalizing it because whole communities have been targeted unfairly and whole families and communities have been destroyed around this,” Baraka said. “If this is an opportunity for folks to make money, we do not want to go the way of Prohibition, where now we have a huge industry around alcohol where people are making millions of dollars, but communities are locked out. We will not be locked out, and we will not allow people to stay in jail for 10 years until we finally decide to get expungement.”