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Maplewood & South Orange Leaders Support Racial Justice Aspect of NJ’s Proposed Marijuana Law, Ask for Changes in Taxation Structure

Maplewood Township Committee member Dean Dafis testified before joint NJ Senate/Assembly Committee on November 26, 2018.

A bill that would legalize marijuana sales to adults in New Jersey — and regulate its growth and distribution — was voted out of a joint NJ State Senate and Assembly committee on Monday, November 26, making it likely that the bill will pass the full Senate and Assembly and be signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

However, the bill is in need of some major changes, according to South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and Maplewood Township Committee member Dean Dafis.

Authorized to speak on behalf of the entire Maplewood Township Committee, Dafis was one of about 70 individuals who presented testimony to the joint committee in Trenton on Monday.

Noting that Maplewood had already adapted zoning ordinances to permit treatment centers for medical marijuana (as has South Orange), Dafis said that the TC also had “formally expressed our support for cannabis legalization to the Legislature and Governor Murphy. We did all this because we wholeheartedly recognized that legalization and medical expansion would advance racial justice, begin addressing the civil rights crisis of mass incarceration of people of color after the decades-long abusive, prejudicial and ineffective ‘war on drugs’, and help mediate a growing opioid crisis in our community.”

However, Dafis asked that the law equitably treat communities that had been “negatively impacted by marijuana laws and prosecutions,” give municipalities greater self-determination in the process, and finally grant more of the proposed tax on sales to municipalities. See Dafis’s full written testimony below, as well as Maplewood Township’s letter to the State Legislature and Gov. Murphy.

After the hearing and committee vote, Dafis took to his Facebook page to discuss the bill and noted, “There’s much work to be done to delineate and confirm these important elements. So the bill moves on for further amendments, negotiations, and discussions. We are nowhere near legalization. This thing is certain to bleed into next year. But we took a very important big step forward and for that we all should be proud.”

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum preemptively posted to her Facebook page on Friday, November 23, about the bill. While noting that she was fully on board with the racial justice aspects to the legalization of marijuana, Collum expressed her opposition to the taxation structure that would send much more of the proceeds to the State rather than municipalities — allowing, she contended, that towns only be able to “cover your costs.” Collum suggested, “Overtaxing this industry will steer it back into the black market so the state needs to lower its percentage and the municipalities need to see a higher percentage.”

The South Orange leader also wrote, “[T]here needs to be a broader South Orange discussion about recreational marijuana and if it’s a good fit for us. I think this question may lend itself to a good ballot initiative.” Collum noted that “our community will need to decide within a set timeline on whether or not to ‘opt-out’ if this passes the full Senate and Assembly (which I believe Governor Murphy will sign if it does).”

See Collum’s full Facebook posts below.

From South Orange Village President Sheena Collum on November 26, 2018:

Breaking News: Recreational Marijuana Legalization PASSES joint Senate & Assembly Committee hearing today [November 26].

As you know, the legislature has been working with the Murphy administration on legalizing marijuana in a bill that also addresses regulation of cannabis (and taxation), criminal justice reform and expungement, etc. I listened very attentively today to over 70 (?) speakers and I’ve never heard such a great debate take place with very passionate and fact-based arguments being made on both sides and in fact, the majority of speakers identified areas for “improvements” to the proposed bill. Stakeholders spoke to social justice, economics and taxation, traffic enforcement and law enforcement training, technology, impacts on youth, public health, zoning, education, the black market, etc.

What YOU need to know and what this means for US – the South Orange community – is this bill automatically “opts-in” towns with no limits on dispensaries (I do have a problem with this as it undercuts local zoning). I will provide more information and analysis (amendments were made up until 10am this morning and the final bill is still not posted but I did get a copy from Assemblyman McKeon’s office) but we, meaning our community, will need to decide within a set timeline on whether or not to “opt-out” if this passes the full Senate and Assembly (which I believe Governor Murphy will sign if it does). To break it down in simple terms:

1) You can support the bill and support recreational sales in our town

2) You can support the bill and be opposed to recreational sales in our town

3) You can oppose the bill and by extension, oppose recreational sales in our town

4) You can also independently mix and match a variety of your opinions and not fall into any of the categories above.

Given our prime location (regionally), this bill has numerous impacts and implications on our local community and outside of the broader talking points, we need (at minimum) a town hall meeting and to begin the public education process. I’ll be speaking with the Board of Trustees, our legal team and land use professionals and hope to have information available to everyone shortly.

Edited to Add: here is the video from testimony courtesy of NJTV.

From Sheena Collum on November 23, 2018 via Facebook:

This upcoming Monday, the NJ State Legislature will have its first ever vote on legalizing marijuana (referred to in the bill now as cannabis) for recreational use for adults (21+).

First, I’m undecided on whether or not recreational marijuana should be permitted to be sold in our community. I fully supported Alternative Treatment Centers for medical purposes (as did the Board of Trustees) and an ATC would be permitted in our borders. However, there needs to be a broader South Orange discussion about recreational marijuana and if it’s a good fit for us. I think this question may lend itself to a good ballot initiative.

Second, I support the decriminalization of marijuana and allowing low-level criminal arrests and convictions to be expunged. This is a social justice issue. FWIW, Black New Jerseyans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates (FACT). While this issue is “grouped” with the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana, it’s a false choice. You can support the social justice issues, which are vast, and not support the components of recreational marijuana – it’s tax structure and regulatory processes.

Now moving on to the financial and land use issues I cannot support:

1a) The State would get a 12% tax and the host municipality can impose up to a 2% excise tax. Sorry but no. A new multi-billion industry, which relies ENTIRELY on local support, and this proposition is nothing more than “hey – you guys will cover your costs and the State will MAKE money”. Again, no. We like to MAKE money too and isn’t worth a break-even proposition (of interest, our school district is still under funded over 30% from the state). Overtaxing this industry will steer it back into the black market so the state needs to lower its percentage and the municipalities need to see a higher percentage.

1b) Love host agreements (not covered in the bill). While many of you may not be aware, while we were considering the ATC proposal for medicinal, a local host agreement was on the table and for interested parties, was acceptable. Allow the municipalities to go above and beyond the excise tax to also negotiate a host agreement (Massachusetts does this). Our land is incredibly valuable as is our location – we should have the sole authority to negotiate in our taxpayers best interest as this should bot be treated as one-size-fits-all.

2a) “Opt-Out” – no. It should be “opt-In”. Let me draw a comparison. Remember mid-term gate when a decision was made that everyone who previously used a mail-in ballot “automatically” got the mail-in ballot again despite never asking for it. Same premise. Don’t tell everyone they’re automatically “in” until they say “out”. We should all be “out” until we say “in” – if that’s even ever.

2b) Imposing a time frame for us? “Make up your minds in 180 days or else.” Sorry, I don’t do well with a timeline being imposed on our community on a serious issue that needs a lot of thoughtful consideration. I find this not only ridiculous but offensive. Local communities will be ready to share their decision when they say they’re ready not because an artificial timeline was created to compel us to act. We, too, have a lot of other priorities at the local level and I don’t think we should drop everything we’re doing to infuse an overextended State with cash.

I’ll close by saying I’m a Democrat although I like the term progressive better but that doesn’t necessitate “falling in line” with bills just because the Democrats say so. As written, this bill to me is unacceptable.

Thanks for reading if you were able to make it through and always welcome your feedback.

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