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New Jersey Mayors Demand Social Equity In Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Legal marijuana is so close in New Jersey you can almost smell it. But does soon-to-be-filed legislation do enough to ensure social equity under a legal cannabis system?

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) isn’t so sure. And he’s calling on fellow mayors to join him in pressing for stronger social justice protections such as the expungement of records for marijuana offenses and permitting those with cannabis-related convictions to obtain business licenses to participate in the legal industry.

In a letter to the NJ Urban Mayors’ Association, Baraka said “there remain serious issues of social justice and equity; municipal self-determination and finances that are not adequately addressed in the pending legislation.”

“While I support legalization, I can only support legislation that goes even farther to remedy the damage to communities of color caused by years of cannabis prohibition,” he wrote to his fellow Garden State mayors. “I urge you to join me in seeking passage of stronger legislation.”

The letter outlines seven policies that Baraka hopes will be featured in the marijuana legalization bill, which legislative leaders have said they hope to introduce and pass as soon as this month. Besides expungements and licensing requirements, the mayor also wants to ensure that people who are in jail for possession are automatically released and to strengthen parts of the bill that deal with “impact zones.”

“Social Impact Zones to compensate the people whose areas have been damaged by the marijuana prohibition is a necessary idea,” Baraka wrote. “But the concept needs teeth lacking in proposed legislation,” he said, referring to details that have emerged so far about the yet-to-be introduced bill.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) was among the first to voice his support for Baraka’s proposals, tweeting that New Jersey “needs Newark, Jersey City and urban mayors to be fully engaged to meet their state projections.”

“These provisions outlined here are important to us to move 4ward,” he wrote. “Period.”

Just two months ago, Fulop attempted to decriminalize marijuana in Jersey City—only to be rebuffed by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D), who overruled the policy and argued that a municipal prosecutor does “not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses.”

Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bhalla (D) appeared alongside Baraka in support of his efforts during a press conference on Thursday.

The mayors emphasized the importance of remediating the long-lasting harms of prohibition and empowering communities that have been disproportionately affected to participate in the legal marijuana system.

Pro-legalization advocacy group New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform live-tweeted some of the statements that came out of the event.

Where do things go from here?

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said that he’s confident he’ll get the votes to pass a legalization bill before the end of September. But for now, the full bill text is not currently available, and so it’s unclear whether the legislation will include all of the provisions the mayors are demanding.

Shortly after Grewal rejected Jersey City’s attempt to decriminalize citywide, he issued a seemingly contradictory guidance memo to municipal prosecutors on marijuana enforcement policy last week, suggesting that they can use prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether or not to pursue cannabis cases.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) made marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his election campaign last year.

New Jersey Voters Strongly Support Legalizing Marijuana, Poll Finds

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party

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In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.

But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.

That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”

Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.

That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.

Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.

A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.

Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.

Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:

AMASH_038_xml by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Former GOP Congressman Explains Why Broad Marijuana Reform Is Achievable In 2020

Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.

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Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.

Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.

In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”

However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”

The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.

The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.

“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.

While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.

Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.

On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.

Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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