New York, expected to be the 12th state to legalize recreational marijuana activity, has fallen short of these expectations after failing to gain enough legislative support during a weekend-long session of negotiation.
Last minute lobbying efforts were not enough to sway the majority of Democratic members of the Senate. Instead, a backup bill has been passed and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reducing the charge for possession, expunging past possession convictions, and adding smoking of marijuana to the restrictions on smoking in public.
While other states continue to make impressive progress towards laying the groundwork for a commercial cannabis industry, New Jersey has also failed to take the leap towards recreational marijuana legalization. As of June of 2018, New Jersey legislatures introduced a bill that would legalize the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for people at least 21 years old. Additionally, it created, regulated, and taxed a commercial marijuana industry in the state. If the bill had passed, marijuana could be consumed not only in private residences, but in designated areas attached to cannabis dispensaries.
What set New Jersey’s recreational bill apart from the rest was its dedication to the social equity agenda by reserving 25% of cannabis licenses for businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans. Micro-licenses will also be available to give smaller businesses a leg up in entering the market. The campaign for the NJ marijuana legalization bill had a similar fate to New York’s. Once the New Jersey campaign abruptly collapsed, the New York campaign was quick to follow.
Illinois, on the other hand, was successful in becoming the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use, coming into affect in January 2020, permitting adult purchase and possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of cannabis concentrate, cannabis-infused products, and medical patients are permitted to grow up to 5 marijuana plants in their home, out of public view. People who have received nonviolent convictions that are cannabis related will be pardoned if they were charged on possessing under 30 grams – a measure that was made to mitigate the effects of the drug war in disproportionally impacted communities over the past 50 years. It also creates opportunities for minorities to capitalize on the new cannabis trade — giving them points toward licensing for living in oppressed areas.
For New Jersey and New York, the discrepancy over the legalization of marijuana is rooted in the inability to decide where to allocate the revenue collected from cannabis taxing. Progressive legislatures are pushing to invest a percentage of the revenue into the communities that have been most detrimentally affected by the war on drugs. Gov. Cuomo, however, seems to have other plans on which sector will benefit from the new tax run-off of the multi-billion dollar industry, rather than funneling it into programs for reparations or reforming solitary confinement.
Social equity has been a point of contention when it comes to discussing regulations of marijuana legalization. New York and New Jersey legislative decisions have been delayed because officials are unsure about creating policy on conviction clearings and reparation programs. The U.S. has entered a new phase of marijuana policy, “Reform 2.0,” as Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman calls it.
Policy makers are no longer discussing the prospect of legalizing marijuana. Reform 2.0 looks into navigating social justice issues in the war on drugs and supporting minority populations who have been targeted for decades. The legalized marijuana industry has been critiqued for its white and exclusionary qualities, causing the Cannabis Trade Federation to collaborate with national NAACP officials and civil-rights advocates on drafting a plan for diversity and equity policy. Buffalo Democrat, Peoples-Stokes, wrote in Newsweek about the plan: “It will not end racism. But it is a crucial step in the right direction.”