The online news service NJ Spotlight hosted a half-day event on May 11, 2018, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hamilton, New Jersey, titled “Marijuana Legalization in NJ: Understanding the Opportunity and Challenges.” The event was sponsored by WeedMaps, Archer Attorneys at Law, and the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association (NJCIA).
The day began with opening remarks from NJ Spotlight CEO and founding editor John Mooney. Mooney stressed the importance of hearing from other voices in the cannabis industry outside of New Jersey on the processes they went through, which was a good transition to the keynote address from Colorado’s director of Marijuana Coordination Andrew Freedman (also of Freedman & Koski).
Freedman’s keynote address was titled “Lessons from States with Legal Marijuana: What NJ Needs to Know for Implementation.” He discussed some of the points of contention when a state goes through the legalization process, including
- What happens with youth use? Is there an increase after legalization?
- What specific problems occur after legalization (such as increased hospital visits and calls to poison control)?
- What specific problems are related to edibles (such as over indulgence, accidental ingestion, or attractive packaging for youth)?
- Are there increased fatalities on roadways?
- How do you handle the increased tax revenue?
Freedman presented a slideshow with statistics to answer some of the questions listed above and explained some of their significance. For example, he showed data from several National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) studies related to youth use of cannabis that did not show a clear trend statistically between pre- and post-legalization in Colorado.
Freedman also addressed four other areas that he considered important issues in Colorado: naïve users, two black markets, social equity, and the 80/20 problem. From the naïve user standpoint, Freedman stressed that education is key for ensuring public safety. He also cited two examples that Colorado implemented to address youth use: the first was a “Don’t be a rat” ad campaign that tried to deter youth use with the concept of being a lab rat if you use marijuana at a young age. The campaign was not considered successful. The second campaign was tested with a focus-group and has had much better results: “Protect What’s Next” is an ad campaign targeted at youth where they focus on their future goals and ask themselves “Will marijuana help me achieve those goals?”
Freedman took several audience questions on topics ranging from public use laws, savings versus cost for law enforcement, arrest rates, banking issues, and more. For more information on Freedman’s talk and to view his slides, visit the NJ Spotlight website (1).
There was also a panel discussion moderated by NJ Spotlight Editor-in-Chief Lee Keough. The panelists included
- William J. Caruso, Esq., of Archer & Grenier P.C.
- Dianna Houenou, Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
- Dustin McDonald, Vice President of Government Relations for WeedMaps
- Frank L. Greenagel II, MPAP, MSW, LCSW, LCADC, ACSW, ICADC, CJC, CCS, who works in counseling, policy, training, and keynoting
The panel covered a broad range of topics and how they apply to New Jersey’s cannabis legalization process. Some of the key points raised were decriminalization versus legalization and the different impact those laws would have in the state; social equity; liability issues; taxes; and law enforcement challenges. Near the end, the panel was opened up to audience questions and Freedman joined the group.
The event was very informative and raised many important questions for New Jersey lawmakers and citizens to consider. As the legalization process continues, New Jersey is in a position to be a leader for other states that want to legalize cannabis. Time will tell what the future holds for New Jersey’s drive to legalize cannabis and include social equity measures and regulations in their bills, but the initial conversations seem promising.