Good evening, Chairwoman Houenou, Vice-Chairman Delgado, and Commissioners of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Thank you for this opportunity to share my testimony.
My name is Marleina Ubel and I am a policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank focused on advancing economic, social, and racial justice for New Jersey residents.
I want to start by thanking you for your recommendations from last year. It is clear that you heard the call to make sure that the money from the Social Equity Excise Fee be distributed back not just into municipalities, but into communities harmed by the War on Drugs and not spent on law enforcement.
The language surrounding the use of this revenue is vague, allowing the state to exercise tremendous discretion in how it’s spent. Therefore, there must be clear parameters on what is acceptable and what is not, along with the expectation that a participatory budgeting process must be followed. This is of utmost importance because the communities and the individuals who have been directly impacted by the drug war must have meaningful input on how the money is used.
Meaningful input also requires transparency. The public should have access to how much revenue is raised and where that revenue is going. This should not be a slush fund, nor should it be spent on coercive treatment, school resource officers, or otherwise invested in punitive measures connected to the criminal legal system, which is the very entity that caused the most harm enforcing cannabis prohibition.
As you outlined in your prior recommendations, 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.
New Jersey has 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.