About this episode:
Ed Forchion, also known as NJWeedman, was a casualty of the War on Drugs, incarcerated on weed charges at the end of the 1990s. Across the country, Black people were disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, and in New Jersey, the ACLU found that even in the last decade, if you’re Black you’re 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for weed.
But now, voters have opted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. And the move raises the question of whether and how Black people will benefit from this change.
Since 2015, Ed has operated a black market weed shop directly across from City Hall in Trenton. He opened the shop to protest to what he saw as unjust marijuana laws. And now, even though he could apply for a legal license, he doesn’t have faith in the state to equitably give access to potential Black sellers.
Dianna Houenou is hoping to change Ed’s mind. She’s the chair of New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. The CRC is responsible for deciding rules for recreational use, which businesses and how businesses will get approved, and how social equity will play into the process.
Racial and social equity was initially not part of the New Jersey legalization plan, but activists pushed for it, which led to an excise fee that will go towards communities disproportionality affected by the War on Drugs. The Commission is slated to announce how this will all work in August. While there is some excitement around the push for social equity, states like California and Illinois have proved that these social equity programs might be more about promises than actual help for Black sellers.
Trymaine Lee heads to the Garden State to find out whether New Jersey will be able to effectively prioritize social equity as marijuana becomes legal.
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Find the transcript here.