Gov. Phil Murphy had to wait three years into his term to see the legalization of recreational use of cannabis in the state. And, while he was frustrated one of his top campaign initiatives was delayed, he did say it provided a blessing: New Jersey can learn lessons from other states.
On the day he announced the chair (Dianna Houenou) and executive director (Jeff Brown) of the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission — and three days after state voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of recreational use of marijuana — Murphy stressed patience when it comes to determining how the state will set up shop.
The Legislature must first create the framework, Murphy said.
That being said, Murphy reiterated his commitment to ensuring equity in the process will be the top priority — but said it is too soon to discuss specifics, specifically protecting small business interests in a market where big national players are eager to come into New Jersey and dominate.
“I think a lot of this is to be determined, in fairness,” he said. “I don’t want to jump the gun on the legislation,” he said.
Murphy, however, said equity is the key word and something he already has discussed with Houenou and Brown.
“We just had a little huddle backstage and I said job No. 1, and I think we’re in (complete) agreement, is equity,” he said. “Equity will evidence itself in a whole range of different ways. Who gets the licenses, where they’re located, a balance between folks who are already in this industry with those who are in the small business startup community, which we value so much of in the state.”
Murphy said the economic opportunities are great. But he said they cannot be the only consideration.
“Am I excited about a new impulse in the economy, about the potential for revenues for the state, about job creation? You betcha,” he said. “But, we said this backstage, if we get one thing right, it’s got to be equity.”
Houenou agreed. And said equity and fairness is about more than business.
“This really is about not just looking at how can we promote representation and inclusion within the cannabis markets, balancing between the folks who have access to the large corporations to the smaller businesses,” she said. “It’s also about making sure that the communities that have been harmed are restored. It’s not just about the arrests that have been made, and the thousands that are made each year, it’s about everything.
“So, making sure that we’re providing economic opportunities, whether it be directly related to cannabis or not. Equitable education, and the way we talk about cannabis needs to be equitable, as well. So, all of these options are on the table.”
Houenou said New Jersey can and will learn from others. New Jersey is now the 12th state to approve recreational use of cannabis.
“Jeff and I will be looking to other states to learn from their lessons and see what good things are happening elsewhere that we can bring here to New Jersey (and) how we can avoid any pitfalls that they’ve experienced.”
Murphy said it’s the silver lining of the delay.
“I’m glad we’re not the first state to do this, because we have a roadmap before us of what’s worked, what hasn’t worked,” he said.