Revenue from Cannabis Legalization Should Go Toward Strengthening Communities Harmed by the Drug War

Testimony from Policy Analyst Marleina Ubel recommending how revenue from the cannabis Social Equity Excise Fee should be spent.

Published on Mar 2, 2022 in Economic Justice, Tax and Budget

Good evening, Chairwoman Houenou, Vice-Chairman Delgado, and Commissioners of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Thank you for this opportunity to share my testimony.

I’m Marleina Ubel from New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank focused on advancing economic, social, and racial justice for New Jersey residents.

The coming budget year will be the first year that cannabis revenue is available in the state budget, and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has the responsibility to make thoughtful recommendations. The money from the Social Equity Excise Fee should be distributed back into communities harmed by the War on Drugs and should not be spent on law enforcement. Most importantly, the communities and the individuals who have been directly impacted by the drug war must have meaningful input on how the money is used.

The language surrounding the use of this revenue is vague, allowing municipalities to exercise tremendous discretion in how it’s spent. Therefore, policymakers should set clear parameters on what is acceptable and what is not, along with the expectation that a participatory budgeting process must be followed.

This should not be a slush fund, nor should it be spent on law enforcement, school resource officers, or otherwise invested in the punitive arm of the criminal legal system, which is the very entity that caused the most harm enforcing cannabis prohibition. Law enforcement already receives the lion’s share of public safety funding, according to NJPP’s 2021 report, To Protect and Serve: Investing in Public Safety Beyond Policing, even though other social services, such as public and mental health, school counselors, and social workers are just as important to public safety.

Revenue from the Social Equity Excise Fee should go directly toward promoting stronger, safer, and more resilient communities, as well as services that recognize substance use as a matter of public health. Examples of such investments include: recreation and community programming, harm reduction services, neighborhood restoration, after-school programming, and vouchers or direct payments for individual needs, such as utilities, rent, or medical costs.

This would follow the example set by other states, like Colorado, where cannabis revenue was used to fund school construction projects, improve youth literacy, expand full-day kindergarten, and invest in mental health initiatives and homelessness prevention. One county also funded scholarships for hundreds of students.

New Jersey’s municipalities have an obligation to equitably invest this revenue, meaning they must center racial justice and reparations for people harmed by the War on Drugs. Anything less would fail the very communities and residents that the Social Equity Excise Fee is intended to support.

Thank you.

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