Illusion of inclusion clouds legalization

Legalization Advocate Opposes New Jersey Legalization Referendum

Flamboyant pro-pot advocate Ed Forchion – better known as NJ Weedman – is campaigning against New Jersey’s planned referendum to legalize marijuana.

No, this is not fake news!

One of America’s foremost champions for the legalization of cannabis is now crusading against approval of a measure to legalize marijuana scheduled for the New Jersey ballot during the November 2020 election.

Famed legalization activist NJWeedman ‘bears the cross’ outside NJ Capitol during 4/20 2014 protest. LBWPhoto

This stance by the fabled Weedman is seemingly at odds with his legendary, decades-long advocacy for marijuana legalization. That advocacy has produced outrageous stunts like smoking a joint inside the New Jersey Legislature’s chamber, repeated stints of incarceration plus egregious deprivations like denial of child visitation rights.

Make no mistake, Weedman remains a strong supporter of legalized marijuana.

However, Weedman strenuously opposes current proposals for the implementation of legalized marijuana in New Jersey.

Weedman’s opposition is based on his belief – also shared by others – that current proposals will unfairly favor the wealthy and well connected to the detriment of both non-whites and those currently engaged in the ‘black market’ sales of marijuana.

Weedman is in both major categories that he sees shafted by New Jersey implementation of legalized marijuana: he’s African American and he is engaged in ‘black market’ sale of marijuana.

“We are being excluded from the legalized market by some of the same people who had no problem including us in mass incarceration from racist marijuana law enforcement,” Weedman said during a recent interview at his restaurant/pot paraphernalia shop in downtown Trenton, a few blocks from the NJ State Capitol complex.

“How is it fair to create a system for wealthy white guys to sell weed when we’ve been the ones who kept the black market going for decades despite arrests and incarceration?” Weedman asked.

New Jersey legislators approved the marijuana referendum measure in December 2019 after attempts to pass a legalization measure stumbled months earlier. New Jersey’s Governor and top Democratic legislative leaders supported that measure. A few African American Democratic legislators joined Republicans to block passage of the legalization law paving the way for a compromise that approved the voter referendum.

“I hear legalization supporters in the legislature say [ballot] approval is a step in the right direction. But it steps over guys like me,” Weedman said, while mocking the fact that current legalization proposals do not include provisions for home-grow of cannabis in the Garden State – the nickname for New Jersey due largely to its agricultural heavy southern half.

Weedman wants a different approach to legalization. “I’d rather people vote no on the referendum and force the legislature to approve a more inclusive bill next year,” he said.

Forchion noted how few non-whites and ‘black market’ entrepreneurs have the millions of dollars now required to secure needed licensing under legalization schemes contemplated in New Jersey.

In state’s that have already approved marijuana for adult and/or medical use, the high cost to even submit an application to possibly receive legal licensing – that requires additional cash – has sidelined minorities. ‘Black market’ dealers have abstained due to the clandestine nature of their illegal business.

Concerns about the processes of legalization held by Weedman (and others across the nation) are the product of proof, not some misplaced speculation from cannabis-clouded stoners.

The 2018 NJ legislative proposal that will probably provide a basis for implementation of legalized marijuana declared intent to starve black market sales of pot by diverting “funds from marijuana sales going to illegal enterprises.”

“The ‘black market’ supplies about 90 percent of the marijuana now used in New Jersey,” Weedman noted. Weedman is among thousands with criminal records for marijuana sale, criminal records that currently bar their participation in legalized marijuana sales.

While that 2018 proposal supported establishment of “licensing goals for minority owned and female owned” marijuana businesses, critics note how promised commitments to fulfill such goals have disappeared during the implementation phase in all of the 11 states nationwide that have approved legalization.

News articles in February 2020 by NBC and the Guardian examined the systemic barriers that block entrance of Blacks into the legalized marijuana industry. New Jersey is one the 33 states were medical marijuana use is legal. African Americans own none of the medical marijuana sales and growing facilities in New Jersey.

Minority participation advocate Cherron Perry-Thomas said, “Equity is not there. There is not enough ownership by [non-whites] and there are not enough dollars flowing through our communities from legalized marijuana.”

Perry-Thomas is a co-founder of DACO, the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities, a Philadelphia, Pa based organization created to promote awareness in Black and Brown communities nationwide about economic opportunities from legalized marijuana.

“Too many inequities still exist for too many people,” Perry-Thomas said. “Too many people are still locked out of access.”

Weedman and others are concerned about outsized influence of big money/corporate interests in the formulation of regulations for legalization in New Jersey.

Weedman cites evidence of outsized influence in New Jersey’s most prominent legal marijuana trade organization, where that organization’s president is a former Republican NJ state legislator who had an anti-pot reputation while in the legislature. There are no blacks among that trade organization’s four other top officials pictured on its website. No blacks are among that organization’s eight board members listed on that website. There is one black person listed among that organization’s five ‘strategic advisors.’

“White guys writing laws to benefit white guys,” Weedman said. “People in the ‘black market’ don’t have the big money to pay for lobbying the legislature…or I dare say pay for favorable legislation.”

The issue of social equity is an aspect constantly raised nationwide in marijuana legalization. Many see critical importance in addressing equity due to the history of systemic discrimination in the War on Weed where, for example, persons of color have endured disproportionate arrests and incarcerations.

Language in that proposed 2018 NJ legislation recognized historic discrimination. That legislation stated “Black New Jerseyans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates…”

An ACLU report on discriminatory marijuana law enforcement nationwide released in mid-April 2020 found that blacks were arrested three and a half times more frequently than whites across New Jersey for possession of marijuana. That report provided regional data on the arrest disparities that ranged from a low of blacks being nearly twice as likely to endure arrest in Hudson County across from New York City to nearly 14 times in upscale Hunterdon County along the Delaware River north of NJ’s capital in Trenton.

Weedman’s restaurant/shop across the street from Trenton’s City Hall. LBWPhoto

Weedman’s campaign to preserve a slice of the legalized pot business pie for non-whites and the ‘black market’ is a sentiment shared by a surprising source: some black ministers in New Jersey. (Black ministers are usually opponents of marijuana legalization.)

Pastor Stephen Green from Roselle, NJ, during a mid-April web-based forum on legalization, said justice and civil rights efforts must “ensure” that legalization does not become an industry that is “deeply white to profit off the backs of those who have been incarcerated for the underground market.”

The moderator of the forum, Rev. Charles Boyer of Woodbury, NJ, said legalization must include the “economic justice” of licenses specifically for minorities.

Boyer, the Founding Director of NJ’s Salvation & Social Justice movement, said, without specific provisions in legalization to provide licenses for minorities “the industry will exclude and not include.”

One legalization opponent, NJ State Senator Roland Rice, has also criticized current legalization proposals. Rice, an African American, feels current proposals favor well-off whites to the exclusion of non-whites. Rice, a proponent of decriminalization, helped block passage of legalization legislation in early 2019.