As we enter the fourth month of 2021, there are plenty of things to be excited about in the world of legal cannabis and its associated social equity initiatives. And, while 2020 will go down in history as one of the most trying we've experienced in a long time - the gains of the cannabis movement have only picked up more steam. In the early stages of 2021 we're already seeing the momentum of the previous year carrying over into this one, with more new states passing legislation that allows for adult-use.
This year has already seen New Jersey, Virginia, and more recently New York and New Mexico pushing through recreational cannabis guidelines; great news, of course, but there's certainly a lot more work to be done when it comes to evening the playing field in this country. Current legal states have done substantial work in including social equity in their legal cannabis programs, but what about those that are freshly-legalized? Read on as we take a closer look at cannabis social equity in these now-legal states.
The aptly named "Garden State" just got a whole lot greener, as NJ finally approved recreational cannabis in February of 2021. This was a hot topic for many years amongst activists and government officials, and ensuring fair legalization was of utmost importance to all parties involved. In regards to social equity, Governor Phil Murphy has been a long-time fighter for justice, something that is reflected in the specifics of the newly-signed laws themselves:
Under A21, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) will promulgate regulations to govern the medical and adult-use industries and oversee the applications for licensing of cannabis businesses. The legislation further provides for the Legislature to reinvest cannabis revenues in designated “impact zones”; directs the CRC to promote diversity and inclusion in business ownership; and contains critical employment protections for people who engage in lawful behavior with respect to cannabis.
A1897 reforms criminal and civil penalties for marijuana and hashish offenses, as well as provides remedies for people currently facing certain marijuana charges. The bill prevents unlawful low-level distribution and possession offenses from being used in pretrial release, probation, and parole decisions and provides certain protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The bill also creates a pathway to vacate active sentences for certain offenses committed before enactment of the enabling legislation.
It's encouraging to see such emphasis being put on making sure that various aspects of social injustice in the state of New Jersey are covered within these laws. We're hoping that the actual infrastructure of enacting all these changes is swift, easy to navigate, and continues to be progressive.
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia has also been involved in the process of "legalizing marijuana in an equitable way." Per his recently suggested amendments, cannabis possession and personal cultivation will now be legalized starting July 1st of this summer rather than 2024, as was initially approved by lawmakers. This passed on April 7th and allows personal use and the cultivation of up to four plants. The rest of the original legalization bill remains in effect with the 2024 effective date.
Gov. Northam has underscored the importance of legalizing adult-use while focusing on public safety, public health, and social justice. So far, it seems that social equity-focused groups such as the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus are pleased with the progress, and have voiced their "support of the Governor's amendment because justice must not be delayed." We fully agree.
While this may have surprised some, those that have been paying close attention to the legal cannabis market will tell you that the recent news of New York's recreational legalization is another long-awaited and anticipated milestone. Known for its harsh prison sentences, the state certainly has a history of wrongs to right.
On March 31st, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took a big step in that direction when he signed legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis, including the restructuring of the cannabis penalty framework to avoid criminalization seen in prohibition, while also making expungement automatic for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law.
As for cannabis taxes, all revenue will be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund, which covers reasonable administration and implementation costs - with the remaining funding to be distributed in three ways: 40% to Education, 40% to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, and 20% to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.
Hot on the heels of New York -- legislators in New Mexico have also recently voted to allow the recreational use of cannabis -- marking a significant victory for the state and for social equity. Following increased calls for social justice involving unfair cannabis-related prosecution, NM joins the already-legal states in including a measure which allows "people with a criminal record for possessing the drug for personal use to expunge past convictions." Certainly a great start.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has confirmed her swift signature once the bill hits her desk, and we hope that she remains progressive in regards to enacting more comprehensive social equity initiatives involving cannabis in the future.
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