NJ mar­i­juana laws should al­low for weed war­riors to get in on the green rush

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SUNDAY SELECT - Jeff Edel­stein Colum­nist Jeff Edel­stein is a colum­nist for The Tren­to­nian. He can be reached at jedel­stein@tren­to­nian.com, face­book.com/ jef­freyedel­stein and @jeffedel­stein on Twit­ter.

Imag­ine, for a mo­ment, if toma­toes were banned in New Jer­sey. Yep. For the last 70 years or so, toma­toes were an il­le­gal crop.

Of course, this would up­set a good num­ber of peo­ple, and plenty of New Jerseyans would see fit to break the law and buy toma­toes on the black mar­ket. Af­ter all, they’re easy enough to grow, al­though af­ter decades of the ban, find­ing the right seeds and the right soil and the right light and the right know-how be­came a bit of a chal­lenge.

Sadly, many New Jerseyans ended up in prison due to their il­le­gal tomato crops. They grew some primo “tom,” as the kids called it, but they got so good they drew the at­ten­tion of the au­thor­i­ties and that was that.

Thank­fully, law­mak­ers in the state saw the er­ror of their ways even­tu­ally and le­gal­ized toma­toes. Ev­ery cit­i­zen in the state was now able to grow their own toma­toes and keep their own toma­toes for per­sonal use. A few se­lect li­censes were granted for the re­tail growth of toma­toes. But not to the peo­ple who were in jail for tomato-re­lated of­fenses. Even when they got out, they had a crim­i­nal record, and clearly, we can’t have crim­i­nals grow­ing toma­toes, right? Well ... “Dude, be­cause I have a weed ar­rest, I won’t be al­lowed to get into the New Jer­sey weed in­dus­try,” Ed For­chion, the NJ-Weed­man, said to me last week, point­ing out the rot­ten tomato part of the com­ing green rush here in the Gar­den State.

To re­cap: Just like I said last year and last week, le­gal weed is com­ing to New Jer­sey in 2018. It’s at the point where this is as sure as the sun ris­ing in the east and the rooster crow­ing about it. It. Is. Go­ing. To. Hap­pen. The Mar­i­juana Nine - the group of New Jer­sey leg­is­la­tors who went out to Colorado last week to in­spect that state’s le­gal weed pro­gram - came back to New Jer­sey gush­ing. Se­nate Pres­i­dent Steve Sweeney told NJ101.5 that he was “ab­so­lutely sold” on le­gal weed and that “as soon as the (new) gov­er­nor gets sit­u­ated, we’re all still here, we in­tend to move quickly on it.” It’s a done deal. The tax wind­fall will be (con­ser­va­tive) $300 mil­lion a year. Jobs will be cre­ated. Mar­i­juana ar­rests and pros­e­cu­tions will dwin­dle to near zero. It’s a win for ev­ery­one.

Ex­cept, prob­a­bly, for peo­ple who have been in the weed in­dus­try this whole time.

“I will not sup­port Sweeney’s ef­forts to le­gal­ize if it doesn’t have repa­ra­tions for per­sons pre­vi­ously con­victed of weed ar­rests,” For­chion said.

And he’s right. Peo­ple who were pre­vi­ously con­victed of mar­i­juana ar­rests should have their records cleaned up and, im­por­tantly, if they want to get in on the busi­ness, they should have the same rights as any­one else.

In Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, this has been taken up a notch. From a re­cent East Bay Ex­press story: “Oak­lan­ders who’ve been jailed for pot in the last ten years will go to the front of the line for le­gal weed per­mits un­der a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new pro­gram en­acted by the City Coun­cil.”

The idea here is ob­vi­ous: In­ner city black men were jailed for weed in way dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers than white sub­ur­ban­ites. This mea­sure helps equal the le­gal weed play­ing field.

And while I don’t ex­pect the New Jer­sey leg­is­la­ture to take it that far, they have to do some­thing. They have to al­low peo­ple who were pre­vi­ously locked up on mar­i­juana charges the same rights as peo­ple who weren’t.

There is his­tor­i­cal prece­dent: Just look at what hap­pened af­ter Pro­hi­bi­tion. The boot­leg­gers went le­git. Even the mob was al­lowed to ac­cess to the le­gal booze in­dus­try.

Af­ter decades of lock­ing peo­ple up for mar­i­juana in New Jer­sey, it would be wholly un­fair and im­moral for the leg­is­la­ture to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana and leave be­hind the tens of thou­sands of state res­i­dents who have a crim­i­nal record for the very sub­stance that’s about to make - let’s be hon­est - big cor­po­ra­tions and sub­ur­ban­ites rich.

BREN­NAN LINSLEY - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

Mar­i­juana is dis­played at the River Rock dis­pen­sary in Den­ver. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment takes an­other step to­ward en­abling a le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in­dus­try to op­er­ate in the U.S., an­nounc­ing that it will al­low banks to do busi­ness with le­gal mar­i­juana sell­ers.

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