Bill Caruso has been involved and influential in the cannabis industry as long as anyone in the state.
So, when the attorney and advocate of Archer & Greiner says Gov. Phil Murphy’s expansion of medical marijuana Tuesday is not necessarily a step toward full legalization, you should listen.
To be clear, Caruso is not saying legalization for recreational use took a hit Tuesday. It did not, he said.
Caruso just said those just coming to the cannabis game need to understand medicinal use and recreational use are two different things — and need to be viewed separately.
To turn a phrase, expansion of medicinal use is not necessarily a gateway toward recreational legalization.
“There are arguments on legalization on the recreational side that aren’t related to the medicinal side,” Caruso told ROI-NJ. “There are civil and racial justice issues that weren’t dealt with today that are still going on in New Jersey that have no bearing on medicinal expansion.
“There are economic arguments and tax issues that come along with the recreational side that weren’t addressed.
“There are other nuanced issues that have to get dealt with one way or another that come with (legalizing recreational use), like driving under the influence and workplace issues.
“I think you’ve got this process on its way, but I think the legal recreational side is more difficult.”
Caruso was thrilled to see the increase of medicinal use, something he has been talking with Murphy about since he was still candidate Murphy.
“This was done for the right reason — expanding medicinal access for patients in desperate need,” he said. “Even the most incalcitrant of deniers on legalization have owned up to the understanding that there’s a real need. You would be hard pressed to find people who are against that.”
But he also acknowledged how some people may want to stop the expansion there.
And not for moral reasons. For money reasons.
“There are some cities who think the medicinal effort throws cold water on the legalization,” he said. “If you can get a really fat market on the medicinal side, with a lot of conditions and a lot of patients, and you have this market cornered, why would you want the competition that comes with legal recreational use?”
And Caruso doesn’t think increasing medicinal use will bring a surge of business for those wanting to get into research and development for new drugs or those who want to get into the medicinal game to be set up for the potential expansion of recreational use.
“The legal recreational side attracts more of the R&D,” he said. “And if you’re a company that’s investing, you want to be in a legal place because there’s less hassle.”
He said that was the case in California, when it introduced a very far-reaching medicinal program.
Caruso said the push to legalize recreational use will have nothing to do with an increase in medicinal use and everything to do with political will on the issue.
And right now, he said, he’s not seeing much.
“There has been a dearth of political action by some of the folks who have been driving this effort in the political and governmental space,” he said. “The governor doubled down again in his budget, but there was a lull for a while on the issue.”
The same, he said, goes for State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who has co-authored one of the few bills on cannabis. A bill everyone agrees needs to be amended.
“Scutari had to drop off because of issues in his home county (of Union) due to the chairman fight, but he’s sort of re-engaged now,” Caruso said.
As for the legislative leaders?
“(Assembly Speaker Craig) Coughlin seems lukewarm on this issue, almost to the point where I’m wondering if he has the motivation to get this done,” Caruso said.
In the end, however, Caruso still thinks a deal will get worked out.
There’s plenty to do. But that’s always the case in Trenton, which works by its own calendar.
“I go back to this point,” he said. “June is the time period when deals get done.
“If Murphy wants this, and there’s revenue attached to it, and if the minority community wants to deal with the issues related to racial and social justice, and they’re able to push on the levers that they need to push on, I think there’s a lot of good stuff that’s in the ether right now that can come together.
“There’s no reason this can’t get done on June 30; there just has to be the political will to get to it.”