The three public hearings held by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission last week will help officials decide how to spend social equity fees from legal marijuana sales. Advocates had a lot of ideas for how to spend the money, like buying baby bonds for babies from low-income families or funding Black maternal healthcare centers.
They also suggested helping people get back into society after being in prison and making a fund to help people hurt by the war on drugs. “We should change the way money went from communities and individuals to law enforcement agencies. Marijuana arrests hurt my education, job, housing, mobility, wealth, and family stability, said Joanne Zito.
“In the meantime, Bergen County and the state made me pay fees and fines.” Nearly seven months have passed since New Jersey started the legal marijuana industry. There are now 20 dispensaries in the state, and hundreds more are on the way.
What would you do with the dollars in fees raised from cannabis sales in New Jersey? Three opportunities to share ideas with the Commission. Register to speak at https://t.co/DJoStm76os or submit written comments at https://t.co/vgc2ywbexr pic.twitter.com/vawqoaYTL4
— New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (@NewJerseyCRC) November 10, 2022
This week’s hearings were the second round of public hearings held by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to discuss how to invest social equity fees. The executive director of the commission, Jeff Brown, said, “This will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and make people’s lives better over time.”
The panel plans to put together comments from the public into a report for the governor and Legislature. After reading the report, lawmakers will suggest specific investments to the commission, including how much money should be given. Since April 21, when the first legal sale happened, the state has collected about $11.9 million in taxes.
The committee is now figuring out how much it will make in social equity fees for the current quarter. Between April and June 30, sales totaled nearly $80 million. Taxes came to $4.35 million, of which $200,000 was set aside as social equity fees.
Brown said that the commission will spend some of the money on a technical assistance program to help people who want to start their own businesses get into the industry, and the rest will go to people who are selling drugs illegally but want to move to the legal market.
As a result of last year’s medical sales, the state adds $1.10 per ounce to all cannabis sales as a “social equity fee.” Now that officials can include sales of marijuana for recreational use, which cost more, the fee will go up to $1.52 per ounce in January.
By law, at least 70% of tax money should be invested in “impact zones,” which are usually high-poverty areas that have been hurt by the war on drugs. Commissioner Charles Barker emphasized how important it was to give money to these towns. “We heard you loud and clear,” Barker said.
“We did include in our report that no money should be used for law enforcement programs, and we also emphasized the need to use tax revenue to reinvest in reentry support services.”
Edwin Chino Ortiz, who started the Returning Citizens Support Group, asked how grassroots organizations can work with the commission to help people who were jailed because of the war on drugs and make sure they have a way into the industry.
He also asked the commission to think about putting money aside for housing for people coming out of prison, since owning a home is one of the biggest problems they face. Pastor Weldon McWilliams of Christ Temple Baptist Church in Paterson suggested a guaranteed income for the city, which has a high rate of poverty and is therefore an “impact zone.”
McWilliams said that a guaranteed income would help Black and brown people who are struggling and also reduce violence in the city. “This idea of giving our residents extra money with no strings attached so they can do things like go to the store and buy a few more groceries or not have to choose between food and medicine,” he said.
“This will help reduce some of the other crimes we see in our city.” He also talked about improving education and housing across the state, saying that people are leaving Paterson because of its bad schools and rising rents.
Karen Barnett pushed for another kind of education called “harm reduction” and “fighting misinformation” so that fewer young people would be tempted to use marijuana. “Too often, we miss the chance to support existing services and instead pay for programs that are like letting the fox watch the hen house,” she said.
“We can’t put ourselves in a position where we’re not looking at eliminating the supply of people who want to use marijuana for fun.” Yannick Wood of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice said that social equity fees could pay for baby bonds. In 2020, that idea was brought up in the Legislature, but it didn’t get any traction.
A baby bond program would give babies from low-income families a savings account they can use when they turn 18. This would help “level the playing field and tackle the state’s huge racial wealth gap,” Wood said.
Wood, who is in charge of criminal justice reform at the institute, also asked the commission to expand programs that focus on youth mental health and reducing violence.
The commission will meet again on December 2 at 1 p.m.
Even though it will be shown online on YouTube, the hearing will be the first meeting in person since 2020. People can make comments in person or by sending in written testimony.