Some movement on legal weed bill, but critics persist

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy’s election was the kind of catalyst the cannabis industry was waiting for. In the months since Murphy was sworn in, the industry has spread its wings, hosting symposia around the state and creating trade associations in anticipation of the day when weed would be legal. Seven months later, they’re still waiting.

“There’s very few industries in any sector, very few industries where you can actually start up and create an economic boom right away and cannabis will do that,” said Scott Rudder, president of the NJ Cannabusiness Association.

A former Assemblyman, Rudder has been one of the people on the forefront of trying to get the legislature to move on a legal weed bill, but while his trade group has attracted thousands to informational meetings, he has had to watch as lawmakers and the governor try to get on the same page.

“I know some of the discussions that have been going on but all this really comes down to, from an economic perspective, social equity, business opportunities, not just having a job but actually having ownership and entrepreneurship,” he added.

But critics of legalization say the promise of economic opportunity for those most adversely affected by marijuana prohibition is being oversold.

“You’ll have a handful of people – if you want to say black and brown people – who may potentially make money, and that’s not going to be a lot for a lot of different reasons that we can discuss that’s well documented, etc. So it means that the rest of our community suffers,” said Sen. Ron Rice.

Rice says communities like Newark, which he represents, are trying to discourage the proliferation of the corner liquor stores. He says weed shops on Main Street are simply the new liquor store and that they will have the same negative impacts.

Edward Forchion, best known as NJ Weedman, a staunch advocate for legal marijuana, calls Rice’s position “reefer madness.”

“As it is now, marijuana is sold on the street, right along with cocaine and heroin and pills and everything else and when there’s disputes about it, there’s shootings about it. Putting it into a building, putting it into a business, a legitimate business, creates regulation, creates safety issues and you know, jobs.”

The fact is, there’s a lot to consider when legalizing marijuana. What kind of industry will it be? Will there be retail outlets in your downtown? Can you grow your own? And what happens to all those people who did time or are doing time for small marijuana busts.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley was part of a group of lawmakers who met for five hours this week to try and get to some answers.

“We’re looking at a multi-billion dollar industry and individuals want an opportunity for that and we’re going to ensure that, not only that we expunge those individuals but provide language in the bill that allows them to participate in this business and that’s going to happen,” insisted Holley.

“Before you were hearing four different people saying this is what the bill is going to be, that’s what the bill is going be,” explained Senate President Steve Sweeney. “Well, now we’re actually narrowing down with the other house, and as soon as we do that then we want to sit with the administration and figure it out.”

Sweeney says he never said he had the votes right now. What he says he said was that he won’t put the bill up until he has the votes. And, as it stands now, the earliest date that could happen is September 27.