NEWARK, NJ - Mayors from some of the largest cities in New Jersey today warned that recreational marijuana dispensaries wouldn’t be welcomed in their boundaries unless people with marijuana convictions were released from jail and their records get expunged.
Mayor Ras Baraka, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla met in Newark City Hall to tell lawmakers that those provisions and others needed to be passed in order for them to get behind recreational marijuana.
“In some states, they legalized cannabis and for 10 years they have not had expungement,” Baraka said. “So while people were making money off of cannabis, there were people in jail for 10 years while people were making millions of dollars off of this. If that's not the heart of hypocrisy, I don't know what else is.”
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is sponsoring a recreational marijuana bill and several amendments have been added to it. Some of the provisions that were being asked for by the mayors today are already included in the bill.
The three have also sent a letter to state legislators urging them to allow people convicted of possession or distribution to be eligible to obtain a license to sell marijuana and to create "impact zones" to teach residents how to operate their own cannabis business.
The mayors also want municipalities to be able to decide how many cannabis licenses are given in their communities. They also want a share of tax revenue generated by recreational sales to go towards workforce development and training opportunities for youth, young adults, mental health, trauma care and affordable housing.
"For us to be supportive of any legislation in Trenton, and to be supportive of hosting recreational dispensaries in our cities, these things need to be met,” Fulop said. “Absent of these things being met, I don't think Jersey City, Newark and some other cities are going to be willing to move forward.”
Bhalla, the Hoboken mayor, said he has seen how current marijuana laws have impacted residents because he worked a civil rights and criminal attorney in the past. A marijuana conviction could result in a person being unable to get certain jobs or apply for financial aid.
"No more can we sit back and let the status quo remain the same when year after year we see our neighbors of color be arrested at far higher rates than our white neighbors."
Jersey City and Hoboken's mayors said they were taking the lead of Newark, which has already made zoning suggestions for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Newark is also gearing up to ensure that residents have a stake in the medical industry. But Baraka today said the program would not include recreational dispensaries if his demands for a legalization bill are not met.
“We're not legalizing this simply to put another market for people to make money,” Baraka said. “We're legalizing it because our communities have been targeted unfairly and whole families and communities have been destroyed around us.”
Baraka said he supports legalization, but only if provisions like expungement are included. Many of his demands were penned in a letter to other mayors last week.
At least 17 municipalities in New Jersey have already banned or discouraged marijuana dispensaries. But Scutari said that even if Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken went the same way, over 500 other municipalities would potentially want a recreational dispensary within their borders.
“Some of that stuff is going to be included in the bill,” Scutari said of the mayor’s demands, adding that the bill is currently 80 pages long and that he's met with many groups to try to make the legislation as inclusive as possible.
State Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) has added several amendments to Scutari’s legalization bill, including one that would automatically expunge people’s records.
Holley’s amendments draw on a bill sponsored by state Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), which would expedite expungement in the event of decriminalization or legalization. Several challenges about how to expunge marijuana convictions were discussed at a state Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing in June though.
Scutari said he’s aiming to put his legalization bill up for a vote by the end of the month.