In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution Heather is joined in the studio by Matte Kane and Hugh Giordano from United Food and Commercial workers to talk about cannabis legalization in New Jersey. Matte was at the start of a case of pneumonia (its that time of the year) so please bear with his difficulty breathing. He is on the mend now.
Hard at Work
Hugh Giordano has been on the show before, back in the earliest days before we even had a real microphone and you can find that interview here. He brought Matte Kane along with him to talk all things cannabis in the state of New Jersey. The last time Hugh was here the senate and assembly bills were just being drafted for the first time. Since that time, they have been fighting to make sure the bills include protection for the working class as well as for medical patients. They had some success in getting labor language into the bill. As it stands all new cannabis dispensaries will be unionized.
Benefits of Unions
Since the cannabis industry in the state of New Jersey is already being corporatized, these basic levels of protections are great to see. A lot of the benefits that come along with union membership are paid for by UFCW themselves, like free higher education. Social justice aspects also come along with unionization. Living wage jobs can lift entire families and entire communities out of poverty. There are many forgotten areas scattered throughout New Jersey that could benefit from opening a grower or dispensary.
Protection for the Unprotected
Matte points out that as the industry currently stands, the workers at these dispensaries aren’t even protected under federal labor law. Since it is still illegal on the national level, these workers are not granted a single protection including minimum wage (as paltry as that is). The businesses aren’t a recognized industry to the feds. That makes unions the ONLY line of defense for these workers until national law changes.
Cannabis: A Unique Opportunity
Since this is a brand-new industry, UFCW has been able to be in the ear of everyone developing it from legislators to the companies starting up. It helps to remind all these decision makers that ultimately it comes down to working class people. Matte is optimistic that after 2 years of punching out a bill we have something that could put New Jersey ahead of the curve in many aspects.
The Giant Legislative Session
Hugh and Matte were able to be able the giant hearings at the New Jersey Statehouse at the end of last year. 4 sessions were happening at the same time. Matte commented on just how large of a crowd it drew. Matte estimated there were over 1000 participants in the hearing with more outside. They admit they live in a bubble concerning this bill, so it was a good opportunity to hear the pros and the cons and understand how to make a better bill. Matte was pleasantly surprised at how well run the meeting was. After this session, there is no excuse for any of the legislators to not know all the facts.
When UFCW got involved in this legislation, it was because they saw it was an issue that was going to affect their existing members. They knew they were going to have members who were cannabis patients. Organizing the facilities was not their first concern, it evolved out of the activism. Patients in New Jersey don’t currently have job protections. If your company has a zero tolerance policy you could be terminated from your job for taking a doctor approved medication.
Designed to Prevent Insurance Companies
At a dispensary in New Jersey you must pay for your medicine cash up front. This prevents patients from using any kind of insurance. It eliminates a billing cycle. It makes no sense for prescription medications to be sold that way, but that was how it was set up under Christie. It also prevents insurance companies from negotiating a price. UFCW is an example. They have 60,000 members in NJ, and their insurance fund is primarily self-funded by UFCW. They can’t currently pay for their member’s medication. Either this is a medication, or it isn’t. It can’t exist in this weird middle ground.
Build the Best Bill
There are a diverse group of people trying to hammer out this new bill and everyone has needs from homegrow to restorative justice, to working class protection. Matte feels its important to keep focus of getting it legalized first and continue to iron out the other details. Every day NJ is still arresting people on marijuana charges. The expungement aspect of the bill is the one thing that almost had unanimous committee support.
Matte has done some research on expungement. He, like many, thought “How hard can this be? Why don’t we just do this?” It turns out there is a lengthy process. The state police control the databases and records and there is a lot of bureaucracy tied to it. The bill that made it out of committee only expunges the records of those convicted on strictly marijuana use or consumption. Generally, a single charge is not how police operate. They tack on as much as they can once they have their sights on you. That means the pool of eligible expungees is far smaller than it should be. We can start that round now, and work on adding to it over time. The legal entities from the Bar association to the Prosecutors office are saying let’s get this process moving.
The big missing aspect of this bill is homegrow, which many patients want. It is incorrect to say homegrow would negatively impact the industry. People grow cucumbers at home, but Shoprite still sells plenty of them. You can grow cannabis in your closet, but it really isn’t great. The rest of the bill shapes up to dramatically increase access for patients. It includes new growers and dispensaries to keep up with the needs of the medical community. They are looking for 36 new retail licenses. Currently we have 6. The exciting part of the bill is New Jersey will cross honor medical cards from other states. This allows patients from other state to feel safe and comfortable visiting NJ. This bill would also remove tax on medical patients. Delivery is also being addressed. There are patients who are too ill to leave the house. They don’t want to drive hours to a dispensary.
2% Community Tax
The bill that made it out of assembly includes a 2% tax that can go back to the communities these dispensaries are in. That money could be used by municipalities to provide services to their communities. We need tax money to fund things in communities. That is a revenue stream that doesn’t just have to come from homeowners and renters. Matte starts talking about lowering taxes, but your host pushed back a little and we changed the subject to extractions.
Gummies and Extractions
New Jersey does not currently allow edibles, this new bill will allow more edibles and extractions. While also making the process safer. NJ would allow only CO2 extractions and would forbid things like butane extraction. This makes the industry safer, and more organic. With something like butane, you risk explosions and it requires EPA regulation. NJ would only allow the most natural process.
Both Matte and Hugh say that this bill isn’t perfect, but there is such a good framework laid out that we need to get this passed and then keep refining it. There has been good coalition work so far, and it is needed because the federal government could still cause problems at any time. We need a strong coalition to fight back if the federal government tries to roll back our advancements.