Cannabis revenue should be used to repair harms of the drug war

New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission is hosting public hearings on how revenue from the Social Equity Excise Fee should be used. Learn more about how to testify here, and check out talking points on equitable investments here.

Below is testimony from New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition’s Jenna Mellor recommending how revenue from the cannabis Social Equity Excise Fee should be spent. 

Good evening Chairwoman Houenou and members of the commission. My name is Jenna Mellor and I am the Executive Director of New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition.
As you know, the War on Drugs is a war on people. Over the past decade alone, New Jersey invested $11.6 billion to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate residents for drug war violations. These investments actively fueled racial injustice, with Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents most likely to be targeted despite white residents using and selling criminalized drugs at higher rates.
Creating a legal and regulated cannabis market is a critical step to dismantling the drug war. Equally critical is reinvesting profits from this market into communities most harmed by the drug war. Because drug war investments actively fuel racial injustice, revenue from a legalized drug market should actively advance racial equity.
Today, New Jersey has a one-of-a-kind opportunity to invest meaningfully into the wellbeing of communities most harmed by the drug war. To capitalize on this opportunity, policymakers should be guided by the following principles:
  • Do not double down on drug war investments. For decades, investment in law enforcement justified by the drug war has crowded out other much-needed investments in community wellbeing. Any revenue from the excise fee should be invested in areas that remained underfunded as the drug war prospered — like housing, economic development, childcare, education, harm reduction, evidence-based and on-demand drug treatment, and social and legal services. Policymakers should not allow funds to be spent on law enforcement.
  • Invest in a harm reduction approach to drug use. If any excise fee revenue is used to fund drug prevention or treatment programs, then these programs should be rooted in a harm reduction approach to drug use. A harm reduction approach to drug use is evidence-based and centers the humanity and wellbeing people who use drugs. When people have access to harm reduction

    services, they are less likely to experience drug use that causes problems in their lives and more likely to find support that works for them if they do.

  • Prioritize participatory decision-making. Communities who have experienced the most harm related to cannabis prohibition should have a meaningful and active role in deciding how the excise fee revenue is spent. To ensure meaningful participation, any localities that receive revenue should be required to — and supported in — develop participatory budgeting processes that are responsive to resident priorities. Moreover, a proactive effort to include residents who have personally been arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses and/or who use cannabis should be required.
After decades of harm caused by cannabis prohibition, New Jersey has the opportunity to make historic investments in community wellbeing and public health. New Jersey residents harmed by the drug war deserve every dollar to be spent on restorative policies that contribute to their wellbeing.
Thank you for considering this testimony.

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Harm reduction is essential. A harm reduction approach to drug use is the best strategy we have to end the overdose crisis, reduce risks associated with drug use, and affirm the dignity and bodily autonomy of every New Jerseyan.

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