Source: NJ Today Online
Under New Jersey law, cannabis businesses must receive approval from both the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) and New Jersey’s municipal governments. While the CRC establishes general rules, municipalities have the flexibility to develop their own systems for approval and oversight.This has led to a debate,with proponents arguing for tailored applications to suit local needs and critics expressing concerns about favoritism towards well-connected companies.
Roselle councilperson Cynthia Johnson, who is running for reelection, is taking a stand against potential influence in the approval process for cannabis businesses in the borough of Roselle, proposing a measure that would prohibit marijuana business applicants from making donations to the borough’s recreation fund before obtaining municipal approval, citing concerns about potentially corrupt pay-to-play influence.
Johnson believes that allowing cannabis applicants to donate to the borough’s recreation fund may create a pay-to-play situation, where companies contribute campaign donations in exchange for preferential treatment when it comes to contracts. Over the years, state and local laws have been enacted to prevent such practices but in many ways, a series of US Supreme Court decisions have virtually legalized bribery. An ordinance banning these donations is necessary to maintain transparency and fairness in the approval process, according to Johnson.
She has specifically raised concerns about donations made by a cannabis company called Joyleaf to the recreation department for an initiative called Women on the Move, which is involved with entities controlled by Roselle Council President Denise Wilkerson. Women on the Move is a volunteer group supporting the development of young women and girls, with fundraising efforts to cover associated costs. Wilkerson has been accused of using municipal coffers like a check cashing service through which she has laundered funds for use by unaccountable non-profit groups.
Incumbent Roselle mayor Donald Shaw, who confessed to selling heroin to an undercover police officer in New York Coity in 1989 serving nine months in prison, also defended the application process, asserting its openness, fairness, and compliance with the law. Johnson’s proposal has found support from Roselle planning board member Sylvia Turnage, who emphasizes the need for safeguards to ensure that no applicant feels pressured to make donations to elected officials.
As the debate rages, the potential ban on donations from cannabis businesses probably hinges on the outcome of the Democratic primary election in Roselle, where Shaw and his opponent, former assemblyman Jamel Holley (who played a role in cannabis legislation), are locked in a race that could be decided by only a dozen votes.