People currently sit in prison for cannabis-related convictions that are essentially the same activities that are now legal in dozens of states. Like several other states, New Jersey provided a pathway to expungement, though it usually takes the expertise of a legal professional. Certain low-level cannabis convictions in New Jersey are eligible for expungement, and an on-site legal team at the convention can provide more information about the criteria.
NJBiz reports that running from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, New Jersey, the 420 Expo calls itself a “stigma-free celebration of the legal cannabis lifestyle” and will feature more than 100 vendors, live entertainment, educational seminars, celebrity appearances, and most importantly, expungement assistance.
“People with cannabis convictions often find it impossible to find jobs, housing, or college loans. They often lose their right to vote and the ability to receive public assistance. Many employers won’t hire anyone with a drug conviction or have policies requiring immediate termination if a past drug arrest is discovered—with or without a conviction. The issue is even more profound when you consider that a significant majority of those arrested for cannabis have been simple possession charges,” said Cooper, who is also chair of the Cannabis & Psychedelics Practice Group at Falcon Rappaport & Berkman.
Cooper continued, “The so-called war on drugs has been particularly hard on minority and low-income communities, and although studies show white, brown, and Black people use cannabis equally, Black and brown people were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis violations. Despite laws designed to assist these communities, the individuals affected most are also least able to benefit due to a lack of access to information and support. The Expungement Clinics at 420 Expo are intended to provide the kind of meaningful access to information otherwise sorely lacking in society.”
Their plans “will provide access to legitimate support that can help people take advantage of their legal rights and make huge steps in achieving their social justice,” said Davis, who is co-founder of 420 Expo. The convention will host Cheech Marin and a lineup of education events and vendors. “We are thrilled to bring this type of necessary social support to our three-day cannabis celebration,” Davis said.
420 Expo will include VIP meet and greets with Marin as well as guest appearances by other cannabis-related celebrities and more than 20 seminars and panels appealing to both casual and experienced cannabis enthusiasts. The event will also feature product demonstrations, gaming areas, contests, glass blowing and axe throwing. Outdoors, there will be a large smoking section in addition to a variety of food trucks.
While THC products will not be sold at 420 Expo, attendees may bring the legal limit for personal use under state law, according to organizers.
420 Expo will be open 5 to 11 p.m. on Sept. 29, noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 30 and noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 1. For more information or to purchase advance tickets to this 21-plus event, visit 420Expo.com.
New Jersey’s Cannabis Expungement Provisions
The Marijuana Decriminalization Law took effect July 1, 2021, and requires the expungement of certain cannabis and hashish cases. As a result, the Supreme Court has ordered that thousands of cases be expunged.
People in New Jersey with low-level cannabis cases can apply for expungement, including those convicted of distribution of cannabis less than one ounce or hashish less than five grams. possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana, or more than five grams of hashish.
If the case included only one of the above offenses and any of the below offenses, it was expunged: Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Use or Being Under Influence of Controlled, Dangerous Substance, and Failure to Make Lawful Disposition of Controlled, Dangerous Substance.
New Jersey’s legislation does not require that every cannabis-related charge be expunged. If you have questions about your specific case, ask an attorney at the convention or Legal Services of New Jersey. You can go to the court where your case was heard to confirm that your record was cleared and receive a certification. Find more details in Directive #24-21.
Expungement means the cannabis crimes are no longer part of your record, and it won’t end up on a job application, housing application, or college application. The case has been removed from the public record and cannot be used to keep you from school, housing, or most jobs.
According to a press release, Murphy has helped facilitate the use of more than $40 million into CVBI programs since 2021. This year, the initiative will receive $5 million from the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Fund.
“For far too long, pockets of our state have been scarred by violence. And, since day one of our Administration, we have been committed to solving this problem,” Murphy said in a press statement. “Through initiatives such as the [CBVI] Programs, we have made great strides on that pledge. I am incredibly grateful for Attorney General Platkin and his team’s steadfast dedication to reducing violence in our state and creating a safer community for all.”
CBVI programs include “interventions and protective activities” in areas where violence is most prevalent. “Through this public health approach to interrupt cycles of violence, and with a focus on reducing gun violence, CBVI initiatives include a range of strategies: mentoring programs, street outreach, trauma support services, de-escalation among high-risk individuals, targeted afterschool programs, job training, and more,” a press release stated.
“Keeping New Jersey’s residents safe is my top priority. Our comprehensive approach to public safety focuses support for community-led violence intervention efforts that are disrupting cycles of violence at the ground level,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Thanks to the leadership and support of Gov. Murphy, we are continuing the State’s historic investment and commitment to this essential work. These funds continue to put resources in the hands of grassroots organizations so that communities are part of our public safety mission.”
To receive a portion of available funds (up to $750,000), applicants must demonstrate a history of success in their work with violence intervention. Interested applicants may apply through the Department of Law and Public Safety between now and Sept. 26, for one of two categories. First, “Tertiary Prevention,” which offers services such as “de-escalation or mediation between individuals and groups, high risk individuals, mentorship” and has street outreach teams ready to take action. The second, “Primary or Secondary Prevention,” implements violence prevention strategies for at risk areas with high violence records.
This is currently the third year that the state has provided CBVI funds and has expanded to include 31 community organizations across the state. In 2022, New Jersey’s CBVI program offered up a portion of $20 million to serve violence intervention efforts, and in 2021 the state offered $10 million.
Other states in the U.S. also have dedicated cannabis tax funds to benefit local organizations. In May, the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced a wave of organizations who applied and were approved to receive a portion of $48 million that was generated by cannabis tax revenue. Organizations such as Centers for Equity and Success, Inc., Shields for Families, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, UnCommon Law, and the Monterey County Health Department. Other grants including First Place for Youth, Goodwill of the San Francisco Bay, and United Friends of the Children were selected.
In April 2020, GO-Biz began this annual program by offering up $30 million for approved grant recipients. In 2022, the amount increased to $35.5 million, which was given to 58 grant recipients. The state has already begun the application process as of Aug. 14. and a due date of Sept. 18, with the 2024 grants being announced in May 2024. All recipients have three years following these awards to spend the funds.
In June, the California Department of Cannabis Control also announced that $4.1 million will go toward 18 local governments through the Local Jurisdiction Retail Access Grant. The distribution included various cities and counties, such as the city of Riverside and Los Angeles County, to develop individual government cannabis licensing programs (limited only to cities and/or counties that have not opted out of allowing cannabis businesses).
Gov. Murphy signed the state’s adult-use cannabis into law in February 2021 (officially called the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act). Adult-use cannabis sales went live in April 2022, and after one year passed, the state had 24 licensed cannabis businesses in operation (versus the 13 that it began with).
Sales data from Q3 of 2022 recorded more than $100 million in adult-use cannabis sales. “New Jersey is only seeing the beginning of what is possible for cannabis,” said New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown. “We have now awarded 36 annual licenses for recreational cannabis businesses to New Jersey entrepreneurs, including 15 for dispensaries. Those businesses alone will be a significant growth of the market. With more locations and greater competition, we expect the customer base to grow and prices to come down.”
According to the most recent data published from the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Q1 of 2023 yielded $474, 407,516 in recreational cannabis gross receipts, and $204,731,182 in medical cannabis gross receipts.
A police officer in Jersey City, New Jersey was fired for testing positive for THC in a drug test. Last week, that officer was reinstated to his position with back pay.
Norhan Mansour was fired well after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Jersey in 2021 (with sales beginning in April 2022). After the bill was signed, the Jersey City Police Department clarified that although cannabis was legal, police officers were prohibited from consuming cannabis when off the clock. Mansour was one of four officers who were terminated due to a positive THC test in June 2022, all of whom pursued a lawsuit in April 2023.
Mansour’s attorney Peter Paris explained the hypocrisy of his firing. “What Jersey City is doing is equivalent to terminating police officers because they had a beer off duty,” Paris said in June. “Except it’s worse because there is no constitutional right to drink beer, while there is a constitutional right in New Jersey to consume cannabis.”
According to a Jersey City Timesreport from June, the case was settled by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. In favor of reinstating Mansour, Judge Kimberly Moss said that state law “…precludes employers from terminating an employee simply because the employee uses cannabis and precludes employers from terminating their employees solely due to the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in the employee’s system,” Moss said.
At a meeting on August 2, the commission claimed that the city’s argument is “unpersuasive,” adding that the federal ban on cannabis consumers owning firearms doesn’t apply to law enforcement officers. “The Civil Service Commission finds that the action of the appointing authority in removing the appellant was not justified,” the commission stated. “The Commission therefore reverses that action and grants the appeal of Norhan Mansour. The Commission further orders that the appellant be granted back pay, benefits, and seniority from the first date of separation without pay until the day of reinstatement.”
In October 2022, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission introduced a new directive on drug testing requirements for law enforcement in the state. By February 2023, Attorney General Matthew Platkin had also revised a policy on drug testing for law enforcement. “Due to the complex nature of the law, and in order to provide uniformity in state employee drug testing as it pertains to the use of cannabis, it is necessary to revise this policy,” Platkin stated.
The topic of individuals owning firearms has also been explored in depth over the past few years, both in relation to law enforcement as well as civilian gun ownership under federal law.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced earlier last year that she planned to sue the Biden administration “…to block a federal rule that prohibits medical marijuana users from buying guns or maintaining concealed-carry permits.” Then in Florida last November, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit that aimed to prevent medical cannabis consumers from buying firearms.
In February, a federal court case in Oklahoma ruled that banning cannabis consumers from owning guns is unconstitutional. Brian Vicente of Vicente Sederberg LLP described the case as a significant step forward for cannabis consumer rights.
“For decades, and across various states, medical cannabis patients have been asked to choose between participating in their state’s legal cannabis program or owning a firearm,” Vicente told High Times in February. “This federal court decision secures the rights of adults to both use cannabis and own guns and effectively removes the restriction, and associated stigma, that these adults face. This is part of a broader trend of conservative states embracing marijuana policy, with both Alabama and Mississippi establishing medical cannabis programs in 2022 and Oklahoma poised to legalize cannabis on March 7 of this year.”
Similarly, a federal court decision in Texas in April also found that banning consumers from possessing firearms is unconstitutional as well. “Quite simply, there is no historical tradition of denying individuals their Second Amendment rights based solely (or even partially) on the use of marijuana,” the case filing stated.
A New Jersey government official wants to keep track of your entire relationship with cannabis in an effort to tackle stoned driving, the New Jersey Monitor reports. Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D) wants to create a division tasked with compiling data, such as information on any arrests made for driving under the influence where cannabis is present, through use or possession, in addition to other marijuana-related arrests, dismissals, convictions, cannabis seized, and even adjudications of cannabis charges.
The reality of the dangers of driving with cannabis in one’s system is hotly debated. U.S. lawmakers are scurrying to find a way to solve the issue, whether they’re getting people stoned (and even giving them munchies) to research high driving or working on tech to scan your eyeballs, they really, really want to find a way to identify (and prosecute) anyone driving under the influence of cannabis. Never mind the fact that weed legalization in Canada is not linked to an increase in car crashes.
Speight was inspired to tackle the problem in her home state after visiting Colorado, the first state to have legal recreational weed, in the summer of 2022 and observing how the state deals with motorists driving under the influence of cannabis. “I don’t know if they have the correct guidance on how to charge without overstepping,” Speight said. Colorado has an office under the state’s criminal justice division that monitors and logs any cannabis offenses, yet New Jersey has no similar centralized database. “When I saw what they were doing over there, I started thinking about how that would be good for our state,” she said. “I like the fact that they have a certain division handling and keeping track of these cases.”
So, New Jersey residents, you can get mad at Colorado for inspiring your state to step up its vigor regarding cannabis-related driving arrests. Speight aims to create the division to help the police know under what circumstances they can arrest someone. This means the state government will be collecting more information about its citizens, which will be presented annually to the governor and Legislature, and include any recommendations for improvements.
The bill, introduced earlier this month (sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal (D) in the Senate), would additionally create a “public awareness campaign” about cannabis and driving. It’s currently referred to both chambers’ law and public safety committees.
In New Jersey, recreational cannabis is legal for adults 21 and over. You can possess up to six ounces. If you are caught with more than that, the cops can’t arrest you but can issue a summons. Additionally, they can’t search your car without a warrant just because they think they smell weed smoke. If a cop does overreach and investigate cannabis use for anyone under 21, they can be charged with deprivation of civil rights for knowingly violating the cannabis law’s requirements. They then face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
As a result, Speight says that she’s “troubled” by incidents where New Jersey police don’t know what to do. Many officers take a more hands-off approach to avoid getting in trouble due to the current law, and the proposed data collection-based division aims to tackle this. While the existing rules sound favorable to anyone who enjoys pot, it’s confusing police, who, without a current, accurate cannabis version of the breathalyzer, have a hard time figuring out if someone is driving stoned or not.
“All of this gets complicated to me, but I don’t think it should be ignored. It should be addressed,” Speight adds, noting she hopes to work with both cannabis advocates and law enforcement on the bill.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy this week signed legislation to grant standard business tax deductions to licensed cannabis companies in a move designed to improve the viability of the state’s regulated marijuana industry. The measure, which decouples New Jersey’s tax laws from Section 280E of the federal tax code, was signed by Murphy on Monday following passage of the bill by the state legislature in February.
In many states that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use, tax laws follow the lead of Section 280E of the federal tax code, which denies most standard business tax deductions for cannabis businesses. Under the rule, cannabis operators are only allowed to deduct the cost of goods sold, while deductions for other standard business expenses such as rent, payroll and utilities are not allowed for most businesses.
The bill from Democratic Assemblymembers Annette Quijano, Clinton Calabrese and Linda Carter was passed by the New Jersey General Assembly on February 27. An identical companion measure, sponsored by Democratic state Senators Troy Singleton and Shirley Turner, also passed in the state Senate on the same day by a vote of 32-3.
Under the new legislation, which goes into effect immediately and applies to tax years beginning on January 1, 2023, cannabis companies will be permitted to deduct certain business expenses on their state tax returns. The bill does not affect the federal tax liability owed by the businesses. The sponsors of the legislation say that the bill will help improve diversity in the regulated cannabis industry, which faces steep barriers to entry and high taxes and regulatory fees.
“We have seen here in New Jersey, and around the country, that legal cannabis businesses tend to lack diversity both in gender and race amongst its ownership ranks,” Singleton said in a statement quoted by local media. “This law aims to level the playing field for all cannabis businesses.”
“It will ensure that dispensaries are paying a fair amount of taxes by taking into account critical business expenditures and allowing these deductions from their income,” he added.
“New Jersey’s cannabis industry is still in its infancy, and we need to act early to provide equal opportunity for all businesses to succeed,” Turner said. “Supporting dispensaries while promoting diversity within the cannabis industry is better for our local economy and also helps to ensure that the profits from recreational cannabis are being funneled back into the communities that need it most.”
The legislation to grant standard business tax deductions to New Jersey cannabis companies is also supported by representatives of the regulated cannabis industry, including the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA), a trade group that said the legislation “will provide a more economically viable landscape for our young industry and those wishing to enter it.”
“The continued implementation of 280E placed several financial constraints on cannabis operators, big and small, by prohibiting them from deducting common business expenses from their taxes,” the NJCTA said in a statement. “Now, New Jersey’s licensed cannabis operators will be treated like any other legal enterprise operating in New Jersey, a sense of normalcy that our industry will cherish.”
James Leventis, executive vice president of legal, compliance & government affairs for Verano, a company that operates three Zen Leaf dispensaries in New Jersey, applauded the passage of the new legislation, saying it eliminates “a key barrier that has impeded entrepreneurship and the growth of the cannabis industry across the nation.”
“It’s inspiring to see New Jersey take this bold step to support one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation,” Levetis wrote in an email to High Times. “I hope to see similar courageous action by leaders across additional states – and, most importantly, at the federal level – to deliver further cannabis reforms that will allow our industry to finally reach its full potential as a catalyst for positive economic and social progress across the U.S.”
Other states that have legalized marijuana including New York, California, Hawaii, Michigan, Colorado and Oregon have passed legislation to separate their state tax laws from Section 280E. Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut.
Stockton University released the results of a new poll of 660 New Jersey residents April 25, 2023, exploring consumer attitudes and actions as the market continues to take shape. Stockton University students texted cell phones with invitations to take the survey online, with Opinion Services supplementing the dialing portion of the field work to cell and landline telephones. Polling took place from April 1-14, 2023.
Learning About the New Jersey Cannabis Consumer
The poll explored a number of issues surrounding cannabis, including general consumer shopping habits, attitudes and behaviors in the year since the market launched. According to the poll, about one-third of New Jersey adults have used cannabis or cannabis products since recreational cannabis was legalized, and most users said they were happy to patronize a legal weed dispensary.
Among legal cannabis consumers, 47% said they used it for recreational purposes and 39% said they consumed it for both medical and recreational purposes, while just 13% used it strictly for medicinal purposes. Despite boasting some of the highest prices in the country, 69% of users bought products from a licensed cannabis dispensary, and 86% reported that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the experience.
Expanding upon the widely-reported satisfying dispensary experience, 43% of consumers said they appreciated knowing that products were safe and 23% said they liked the quality. Only 7% of respondents approved of New Jersey’s cannabis prices.
Looking at cannabis big pictures, a majority of respondents (53%) supported having dispensaries in their own town selling recreational cannabis (39% opposed). When asked about the potential for adding cannabis to New Jersey’s hospitality industry, with offerings like cannabis-infused restaurants, consumption lounges and more, it was more evenly split, with 48% in support and 45% opposed.
Reluctance Toward the Legal Market and Demographic Findings
While in the minority, the poll also explored the habits and attitude of residents and consumers who have yet to embrace the legal market. When asked why they have not visited a legal dispensary yet, the most commonly reported reason among respondents (30%) was that there was no dispensary nearby. Currently, there are 24 retail shops across the state.
Other reasons included preference for products sold elsewhere (13%) and the general cost (11%). Twenty-seven percent of respondents indicated “some other reason.” Additionally, 30% of respondents admitted they had purchased cannabis or cannabis products from unlicensed individual sellers in the past year.
The poll also offers some demographic insights on New Jersey’s cannabis users. Men (37%) were more likely than women (28%) to consume cannabis, and people under 50 were also more likely to have consumed cannabis in the past year. Specifically, 43% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 41% of 30- to 49-year-olds consumed cannabis, while only 17% of senior citizens did the same, with half strictly using cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Black people had the highest cannabis usage (39%), followed by white people (33%) and Hispanic/Latino respondents (29%), and there were no differences in usage between different regions of the state and those with or without a college degree. Democrats were also more likely (38%) to consume cannabis than Republicans (24%) or independents (32%).
While it’s still early, and a year only offers so much information, the findings highlight some of the challenges of New Jersey’s legal cannabis industry so far, along with the demand for cannabis in the state. Even though prices may be high and dispensary accessibility is still an issue, it appears consumers are generally still willing to travel and pay up to have access to safe, high-quality products.
New Jersey’s cannabis legalization law initially went into effect in 2021 with a cultivator cap set at 37 licenses. Adult-use sales launched in April 2022, but at the time only seven cultivators were licensed to supply cannabis 13 dispensaries across the state. Last month, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) allowed the cap to expire on Feb. 22.
“The market is developing, and we don’t want to hinder that. The New Jersey canopy is currently only 418,000 square feet—far below the average of other states with legal cannabis,” said Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso. “New Jersey currently has only one cultivation license for every 197,000 residents. The national average is one license for every 31,000 residents. We have a lot of room to grow. We expect that lifting the cap will open the space for more cultivators, ultimately resulting in more favorable pricing and better access for patients and other consumers.”
As of March 2, the CRC has granted licenses to 17 operational cultivation facilities. But even with the cultivation license cap change, many New Jersey municipalities have opted out of adult-use cannabis. One year ago, the Ashbury Park Press reported that nearly 400 towns had opted out of being home to any cannabis businesses. The co-founder and president of New Jersey-based Premium Genetics, Darrin Chandler Jr., told MJBizDaily that finding potential real estate opportunities is “almost impossible,” and described prices as “astronomical.”
On the patient side, New Jersey is still the only state with a medical cannabis program that does not allow patients to grow at home. In the past, many bills have been introduced to permit home cultivation to allow medical cannabis patients to grow for personal use. Bill S342, which is sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton and Sen. Vin Gopal, would allow patients to cultivate at home. However, a report from Politico states that opposition from Senate President Nick Scutari is a significant roadblock for the bill.
New Jersey’s industry is continuing to attract outside cannabis businesses. Brands such as Al Harrington’s Viola products are expanding into the state this month, starting on March 24 at RISE dispensaries. According to Harrington, he wants to expand his brand to support the local community. “I want to make sure that we are educating our community and empowering them with knowledge to understand the cannabis plant and the benefits that come from it,” Harrington told Business Insider.
Similarly, Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan is preparing to open Hashtoria Cannabis Lounge in Newark, New Jersey as well. “Getting excited yall!!! @hashstoria coming to the brick city !!!!! This is going to be flyest consumption lounge to hit the east coast. This will be monumental ! All hail to the mighty green ! Be strong, be wise and be the best version of you!!! #newjersey#cannabis#hashstoria” Raekwon recently wrote on Instagram.
Recently, the CRC held a public comment period to discuss its draft rules for cannabis consumption rules, which ends on March 18. This includes restrictions for on-site food sales, but permits food to be delivered or brought in from outside, and prohibition of tobacco and alcohol sales on-site.
In late February, the New Jersey Attorney General released an updated drug testing policy for law enforcement. Under the new revision, law enforcement officers will only be drug tested if they appear intoxicated at work. “Agencies must undertake drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion to believe a law enforcement officer is engaged in the illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, or is under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, including unregulated marijuana, or cannabis during work hours.”
Visitors to Atlantic City could have the convenience of a cannabis dispensary and consumption lounge located just off the famed Boardwalk as soon as this summer under plans being considered for one of the city’s vintage hotels. If approved by regulators, the proposal would add a lounge permitting on-site consumption of cannabis products to a retail marijuana dispensary already planned for the Claridge Hotel, a 1920s-era former casino only steps from the Boardwalk.
New Jersey state regulators are currently in the process of developing the rules to govern cannabis lounges where patrons can legally smoke, vape, or otherwise consume cannabis in a public setting. The eventual approval of the proposed regulations is highly anticipated by the state’s nascent cannabis industry, with entrepreneurs including Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan fame already announcing plans to open weed lounges.
Dispensary and Lounge Approved by Local Regulators
In Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority last week approved plans to open the High Rollers Dispensary in the former casino area of the Claridge Hotel, which is located just off the Boardwalk between Park Place and Indiana Avenue. Jon Cohn, an owner of the business, told local media that High Rollers is close to finalizing a lease for the Claridge. The plans include a $3.2 million renovation of the property, which would add a new entrance to the building on Pacific Avenue near Indiana Avenue.
The planned dispensary will occupy most of an area that was once an art gallery and is now mostly used for weddings, cocktail parties, and other events. The hotel plans to retain a portion of the space for its popular wedding business. In addition to the new entrance, the dispensary and lounge will also be accessible through the Claridge’s lobby, except when the hotel is hosting weddings at the site.
The High Rollers portion of the space, including a 3,700-square-foot baccarat room on the second floor, will be remodeled into a cannabis dispensary and consumption lounge. Plans for the consumption lounge include a bar for nonalcoholic beverages to comply with New Jersey’s proposed regulations for the businesses, which do not permit alcohol or food to be sold in consumption lounges. Other possible amenities for the site, which could be open as soon as this summer, include live entertainment and opportunities for outside food vendors.
High Rollers has also been awarded a license for a cannabis cultivation facility on a vacant property in Atlantic City on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Arctic Avenue. The company expects to create more than 200 jobs to operate the enterprise, with about 175 positions needed for the cultivation facility and a staff of about 35 to run the cannabis dispensary and cultivation lounge.
“We feel it’s a good fit for the city as a whole, to utilize cannabis for tourism,” said Cohn. “You can’t be on the Boardwalk, but it’s relatively close.”
Atlantic City Has Weed ‘Green Zone’
New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana in 2021, and the state now has 21 dispensaries offering adult-use cannabis to consumers. Last year, Atlantic City established a “green zone” to attract cannabis businesses to the city’s struggling downtown area. The zone includes Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Avenue from Boston Avenue to Maryland Avenue, as well as the Orange Loop District, an area of bars, restaurants, and live entertainment stretching from Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue from Pacific Avenue to 200 feet from the Boardwalk. Permitted cannabis uses within the zone will include cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distribution, retail, and delivery.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk itself, however, has restrictions against cannabis businesses. The restrictions do not apply to the Claridge Hotel, which is separated from the Boardwalk by Brighton Park and the city’s Korean War Memorial. Atlantic City also has two medical marijuana dispensaries, The Botanist and MPX NJ.
It’s been nearly a year since New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis program went live in April 2022. Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin revised his Law Enforcement Drug Testing Policy document to reflect this change for officers across the state. “Due to the complex nature of the law, and in order to provide uniformity in State employee drug testing as it pertains to the use of cannabis, it is necessary to revise this policy,” the document states in its introduction.
The revision also includes a section explaining the differences between drug testing for reasonable suspicion and probable cause. “Agencies must undertake drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion to believe a law enforcement officer is engaged in the illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, or is under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, including unregulated marijuana, or cannabis during work hours,” the policy states. It adds that this requires objective facts to lead a person to conclude that drug-related activity has taken place.
The policy for reasonable cause is described as “less demanding” than establishing probable cause because 1) more is required to satisfy the probable cause standard and 2) the “type of information” for reasonable suspicion is “less reliable than that required to show [probable] cause.”
Being found under the influence of cannabis or consuming cannabis “at work or during work hours” is prohibited. Reasonable suspicion in testing officers for cannabis use will be required if there is reasonable suspicion of the individual’s use of cannabis during work, or “observable signs of intoxication.”
Platkin initially released a memo one day after legal sales began in April 2022, stating that police can use cannabis while off duty. At the time, some senators penned a letter to Platkin with concerns about how it “fails to mention that marijuana users are federally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, an omission that may put officers unknowingly at risk of criminal prosecution.”
In October 2022, just after Platkin was sworn in as attorney general, he issued a directive that required law enforcement agencies to conduct two random drug tests for “at least 10 percent of the total number of sworn officers within the agency, and every officer must have an equal chance of selection during each test.”
Within the first 10 weeks of sales following the launch of adult-use cannabis in April 2022, New Jersey collected nearly $80 million in sales. “The market is improving. It is performing as we expect with the current number of dispensaries, the spread of locations, and the high prices,” said New Jersey Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown. “As more cannabis businesses come online, consumers won’t have to travel as far to make purchases, and prices will fall with increased competition. The market will do even better.”
More recently, sales reached more than $100 million. “New Jersey is only seeing the beginning of what is possible for cannabis,” said Brown last month in January. “We have now awarded 36 annual licenses for recreational cannabis businesses to New Jersey entrepreneurs, including 15 for dispensaries. Those businesses alone will be a significant growth of the market. With more locations and greater competition, we expect the customer base to grow and prices to come down.” New Jersey’s cannabis industry continues to thrive, attracting big celebrities such as Raekwon and Ice-T to open a dispensary in the state.
Next up, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission is establishing a plan to permit public cannabis lounges. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the agency released draft rules at the end of January, which would allow cannabis dispensaries to have indoor or outdoor spaces for legal consumption.
Vincent “Vin Rock” Brown and Keir Lamont Gist—known professionally as DJ KayGee—are two of the most recognizable names in hip-hop. Along with founding Naughty By Nature group member Anthony Criss aka “Treach,” the rappers are thought of as legends in the hip-hop community—a role they hope to continue by both creating new music and paying it forward to the next generation of artists.
Vin and KayGee have now formed another group called Illtown Sluggaz, one which will feature DJ and Producer Slugga—a bear and mascot in the vein of a deadmau5 character. The Sluggaz are part group, part record label and part artist management development platform, with new music to be released and a new Slugga Music Concert Series kicking off March 25th at The Wellmont Theater in New Jersey. The concert series aims to give up-and-coming artists a chance to share the stage with veteran performers in a way to help them grow organically.
When we connect over Zoom, Vin and KayGee are eager to discuss their almost 40 years of music industry experience, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 19 Naughty III album and smash hit “Hip Hop Hooray,” the role of cannabis in their creative process, and how they used hate from the “sleepers” to fuel their decorated career in music.
High Times: Growing up in New Jersey, was music always the path?
DJ KayGee: Growing up, it was really the early days of hip-hop and the culture. Just seeing everybody around the way, listening to the music, seeing the graffiti—all the things associated with the scene. And then finally, for me, it was seeing the movie Wild Style. That’s what really made me say, “Oh, I want to try to get into that culture.”
High Times: What about the movie specifically did it for you?
DJ KayGee: It was Grandmaster Flash DJing on the turntables in there. When I saw that in the movie, I said, “I have to try that.”
Vin Rock: For me, I’m the youngest of seven—five sisters, one brother—and my brother used to play the drums all of the time. He’d play Heat Wave, Kool & The Gang, Con Funk Shun on the record player and then would try and drum exactly how the drummers were drumming on the records. He’d get frustrated and kick and throw his drums all over the place because he couldn’t get it exactly right.
Fast forward to the Gladys Knight & the Pips music video “Save the Overtime (For Me).” I believe they had the New York City Breakers in there and I saw the guy do the backspin and was like, “Oh my goodness, that’s incredible.” I had a guy—Mark Young, we called him ‘Loco’—who lived on my block and always used to listen or have access to the underground mixtapes and “battle” tapes of all the live hip-hop performances that were in New York City.
I remember hearing Doug E. Fresh beatboxing and sounding like he had rocks in his mouth. I was like, “Wow, that stuff sounds crazy. How does he do that?” I spent a good part of my youth trying to get that Doug E. Fresh sound in my mouth—until I finally got it. That’s what did it for me.
High Times: Once your interest in music was established, how did Naughty By Nature’s formation take shape?
Vin Rock: All three of us [Vin, KayGee, and Treach] were from the same hometown of East Orange, New Jersey, though KayGee and I lived closer together. I lived on 15th Street, he lived on 18th Street. So if you did the math, we were three blocks away from each other, and Treach lived across the way.
There was a train track and you had to go under the trestle, and there were housing projects Little City and Kuzuri. Treach lived over on that side. Kay and I always knew each other and I used to breakdance with his neighbor—a guy named Terry Peppers—who lived directly across the street from Kay. So I was a breakdancer and beatboxer, and after I finished breakdancing with Terry, I would hear Kay DJing on his sun porch. I’d go across the street to Kay, beatbox for him while he DJd.
KayGee is a year older than Treach and I and he was a senior in high school and wanted to participate in his senior talent show. We needed an MC, so I told Kay there’s this guy in my health class who always rhymes to me. Every other day he’s coming with another rhyme while I beatbox—and that was Treach. I brought him over to Kay and we kind of formed the group from there.
At that first talent show, we didn’t even have a name for the group, we were just doing a routine. At the beginning of the routine, Kay scratched in a Beastie Boys “It’s the new style” lyric, and after the show—the show went well—we recapped how it was a great show and how the intro really worked. We were like, “Why don’t we call ourselves The New Style?” That’s when we first really gelled as our first group being The New Style.
High Times: What was the first inclination where you felt the group could actually be something?
DJ KayGee: After we had the initial performance for the senior talent show, we started doing local talent shows and clubs and we started winning them. As we were winning the talent shows—originally they had it where the crowd would judge them—they changed the rules because we kept winning and winning. Other people and other artists started complaining that New Style comes with their built-in audience, that’s why they’re winning. They’re coming with their blocks. So, they started bringing in celebrities and other different people to judge the shows instead of the crowd, and that’s actually when we first met Biz Markie, Cool V and guys like The 45 King and Flavor Unit. Once we started winning those talent shows, we felt like we had something.
High Times: And it sounds like the talent shows also brought you onto the scene where you were able to meet your contemporaries like Biz.
DJ KayGee: And they’re starting to see us and be like, “Wow, those guys are good.”
Vin Rock: It was a process because we weren’t recording at that moment, we were just live performers. We knew we had a group and we saw what was happening with hip-hop, but then it got to the point where we were like, “We can take it seriously and start recording,” and that’s when we thought we could actually have a recording career and evolve beyond just performing locally.
One thing led to another and we met our guy—Mike C—who was a local MC already signed to the old Sugar Hill label. He introduced us to Sylvia Robinson and Joey Robinson, Jr. from Sugar Hill Records and that’s when we started to take ourselves seriously as far as recording artists. We began recording under the name The New Style, and once we had our demo together, we presented it to them and they signed us under The New Style for our first album.
Sugar Hill Records at that time—of course they had Melly Mel, Grandmaster Flash, all of the legendary music—but they were at the tail end of their run. It was almost like signing with Death Row after Death Row was over. Sugar Hill Records ended up changing their name to Bon Ami Records—which was part of a settlement of a lawsuit they had with MCA—and so our album just sat on the shelf and never did anything. But we believed in ourselves and we knew we had more to give, so that was that pivotal moment where we were like we’re not going to give up. We pursued Mark The 45 King and Queen Latifah from The Flavor Unit because they were our contemporaries right in our own backyard. We wanted to get down with The Flavor Unit and began auditioning for them, threw a party for ourselves and invited Flavor Unit over, and then once Flavor Unit signed us to Flavor Unit Management, we changed our name to Naughty By Nature. That was the moment we were like, “Now we really have to go for it.”
High Times: And you didn’t let the business stuff discourage you from pursuing what you knew you had.
DJ KayGee: While we were with Bon Ami, we did a whole album, and we thought we did okay with it. It was the beginning stages—and like Vin said—we had never been in the studio. We weren’t fully, fully developed yet but we did think we had something to start off with. People were starting to say “You guys have something, you guys have something.”
We felt like we sort of got the short end of the stick coming out under Bon Ami, but at the same time, we learned how to get better and where to record. Within that process, we started paying for the studio time ourselves and started really developing what you hear—and what you heard—as Naughty By Nature. That’s when we started working on “O.P.P.” and all of those records while still doing talent shows and getting better and better. Not only did we feel we had perfected how to perform live, we had started to come into our own in the studio as well.
After we were feeling zoned in after that first album—Naughty By Nature—that’s when we did the whole thing with The Flavor Unit and threw our own party and met with them. At that point, we had “O.P.P.” and knew we had a bomb with it and knew that once we had some better people with us, we’d be able to break through. We were rocking crowds without a record, so if we took the whole thing and put it together, put it on wax, and then did what we could do with a record that people knew, we would be unstoppable. We just needed to get the politics to kick us through the door, and Flavor Unit was the politics.
Vin Rock: I would say one of the biggest catalysts for us back then were—they call them “haters” today—but back in the day, they’d call them “sleepers,” the people who were sleeping on you—the doubters. I remember when we had the twelve-inch single as The New Style called “Scuffin’ Those Knees,” then we had the album which we put up in a local sandwich shop—Sandwiches Unlimited. We were just coming out of high school and we were the hometown heroes, but the album never really broke through, so a lot of people were like, “Nah, they didn’t make it, they’ll never make it.” That really pissed us off and made us be like, “You know what? We really have to prove to these haters that we can make it.”
High Times: You took that sleep, took that hate, and turned it into something positive that ended up being a success.
DJ KayGee: Definitely. We were starting to hone in and perfect it all. At that point, it was just like, “We really love this.” There’s no turning back. Once you start doing it, you start creating and enjoying it. It came from just being a part-time hobby to being something that became a profession that we took really seriously.
High Times: And by taking it seriously, you were simply taking your live crowd-rocking abilities and recording them in a way that more people could consume.
DJ KayGee: That’s why when you hear the records we’ve made they’ve always been call-and-response or party-driven records. We come from that era and that style of artists. Period. We had to rock crowds and win people over without a record.
High Times: Which is different from how it’s done today.
DJ KayGee: They don’t do that anymore. People just put records out and then they throw you on the stage after. There is no honing of the skills, taking your losses. We got “booed” plenty of times coming up. We’ve been through all of that. A lot of these [new] guys—and it’s not their fault—it’s just music has changed now.
Vin Rock: As a matter of fact, last night we all went over to DaDa’s birthday party and guess who was there? Big Stan, yo. He’s the promoter who booked us at Red Alert’s birthday party when we were The New Style—just before we transitioned to Naughty By Nature.
We’re from New Jersey, and back then, it was all about the five boroughs of New York City and they were so possessive of hip-hop. If you weren’t from the five boroughs, don’t even think about coming into New York saying you’re a rapper because you are literally uninvited.
Because of KayGee’s older brother, he had a relationship with this guy Stan, who was a big promoter back then. Stan had thrown DJ Red Alert’s birthday party and the who’s who of hip-hop was there: KRS-One, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Tribe Called Quest—you name them, they were there. And [Stan] gave us a shot as being Jersey artists coming into New York City for Red Alert’s birthday party. Well, we get in the venue, I grab the mic and say, “What’s up, y’all. Jersey’s in the house! They booed us endlessly. We couldn’t get through our routine, we played the first record and they booed booed booed booed booed. We had to just stop the show and step off. The weirdest thing about it was that it was winter time. When we drove into New York City, the roads were clear. After we got booed, we went outside and there was three feet of snow. We had the longest ride back to Jersey.
High Times: An experience like that teaches you something.
Vin Rock: Oh it taught us everything. At that point, it was not only our peers and high school mates who were doubting us—although we had a healthy support system and had a lot of people rocking with us—it was those one or two comments like “Ah, you’re crap” or whatever that make you feel like they’re screwing you over. We had the hometown that we had to prove to that we could break through, and then we went into New York City knowing we were outcasts and knowing New York City wasn’t checking for any Jersey rappers. We may as well have been from Alabama back then. When we went to New York and got booed, it just lit that fire under us and we were like, “Nah, man. We’re really going to get these guys.”
We called them sleepers and made songs like “Thankx for Sleepwalking,” and as we evolved into Naughty By Nature, we made bedsheets and pillow cases so people could “sleep” on us literally [laughs].
High Times: And profit off their snoozing.
Vin Rock: On our second album, we had the inserts there for Naughty By Nature merchandise. Tommy Boy Records had the inserts and we literally sold the bedsheets in the cassettes and CDs back then. In the “Hip Hop Hooray” video, there’s a scene where Treach is in bed and he pulls the sheet over and it’s Naughty By Nature bed sheets. We definitely monetized it.
High Times: In terms of “Hip Hop Hooray,” it’s now the 30th anniversary of the track and the album 19 Naughty III. What went into the track and album at that time?
DJ KayGee: Number one, it was the second album and a lot of people—and I’m sure even Tommy Boy—probably weren’t sure what they had in us yet. Everybody was always worried about the “sophomore jinx,” like is it a one album or one record fluke. Can you really get through, or is it a one-hit-wonder thing.
We were out touring and touring and touring—”O.P.P.”, “Uptown Anthem,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”—we had all of those records, so we were on tour for like a year and a half straight. Tommy Boy was telling Flavor Unit, “The guys need to get in and get a new record. We need to capitalize off the success of the first album. What’s up?” So we were working but we didn’t really feel any pressure. Like I said, we felt like we knew what we were doing. We knew what we were doing and we were just gonna do what we do. We weren’t going to be stuck or try to be something that we weren’t, we were just going to make our records. And that’s what we did.
Even going into “Hip Hop Hooray,” we didn’t approach it trying to make a big record or trying to do anything. It was just another track, another chorus, another idea. Once it was done we knew we had another monster, but it was just like, “Hey, we’re going to work our records.” And even with that, we knew we had a good record but never even handed the record in.
We went up to KMEL in the Bay Area and were doing a radio show for their Summer Jam and were just like, “Yo, let’s test this record out.” We performed the record there and that’s where the whole hands up “Hey, Ho” came from. Treach just started [moving his arms on stage] and the crowd started doing it. So we were like okay, that’s going to carry over.
People went so crazy that the program director called Tommy Boy the next morning and said, “There’s this record that Naughty By Nature performed last night. If you don’t send that to me now, we’re going to play the live version on the radio.” Tommy Boy was calling in to Shakim [Compere] like, “What is going on? What record are they talking about?” And were like, “Oh, that’s ‘Hip Hop Hooray.’ We just have to mix and finish it. We just tried it out out there and it was dope so, yeah, we’ll get it to you soon.”
Vin Rock: Another thing that was so genius about the record “Hip Hop Hooray” was that although we were from Jersey, although we were ostracized coming up, and although New York City didn’t accept us, once we finally broke through and began to get idolized after the first album, we started to win over the New York guys and New York peers. The first single off the second album—”Hip Hop Hooray”—it gave props to hip-hop, and I think it was genius what Treach did.
Instead of being bitter like, “Yeah, look at us now, we’re the shit, blah blah blah,” the song gave props to hip-hop. We shouted out all of our forefathers and that’s what it was—giving props to everyone who came before us, which is why I say to this day that “Hip Hop Hooray” is the ultimate ode to hip-hop.
Even right now as we’re celebrating fifty years in hip-hop, no better record sums up fifty years in hip-hop for me than “Hip Hop Hooray.” It represents inclusion, gives props to the forefathers, and is the ultimate party record.
High Times: Did you know ahead of time that Spike Lee was going to direct the music video?
DJ KayGee: We were just sitting around or something and somebody was like, “What do you think of Spike Lee directing this?” We were just like, “That would be dope.”
Vin Rock: We had rhythm then, so all eyes were on us—and although Tommy Boy was indie—they were a small, strong machine. So they were reaching out, and I’m sure they reached out to Spike Lee. He saw the energy Naughty was kicking out there and we definitely made that happen.
With Spike being from Brooklyn and us being from Jersey, we actually shot in both cities. We shot in Brooklyn, we shot in Jersey, and then we had the cameo list. From Run-D.M.C., Queen Latifah, Monie Love to D-Nice, Eazy-E—you name it.
Funny enough, 2Pac was there on the set, but for some reason he did not make the cut. In the crowd scenes though, 2Pac was there.
DJ KayGee: Yeah, there’s a picture of him standing on the circle thing or whatever.
Vin Rock: I think Pac was just so young in the game [at that time] that he wasn’t really on the map yet. That’s probably a Spike edit, but I’m sure Spike has that raw footage. We’ll have to break into those 40 Acres and a Mule vaults and get that. It would have been dope to do a remix video with that original footage and use edits and cuts that were never in the original video.
DJ KayGee: And a lot of people were at that video.You talk to a lot of our counterparts and they’ll say they were at that video.
High Times: So it was more of a “Who’s Who” event as much as it was a music video for you guys.
Vin Rock: Exactly. It was a party, man. That’s what I remember. I remember it being a party, I remember all of the chicks being around. We were like twenty-three back then.
High Times: In terms of parties, what role did cannabis play in your music creation process and in your personal lives?
Vin Rock: We grew up in the streets, and not to incriminate ourselves, we were street kids. So selling weed was part of coming up.
DJ KayGee: That was the weed era.
Vin Rock: Especially in the eighties, man. Late eighties.
Vin Rock: Shit, even the mid-eighties. I remember being the stash man when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. Again, I’m the youngest of seven, so there’s a huge age gap. My oldest sister is now sixty-five years old and I’m fifty-two. So with five sisters, Colt 45, playing backgammon, and spades—I’m the youngest guy sitting around. Sipping beer and smoking weed—I picked that up as a thirteen/fourteen year old.
Creatively and musically, one of the most famous lines on one of our records is on “Uptown Anthem.” It starts off with: Hey you could smoke a spliff / On a cliff / But there’s still no mountain hiiiiiigh enough / Or wide enough to touch. It starts off with weed.
We came with “O.P.P.”, then we had “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and then the song “Uptown Anthem” was the single off the Juice soundtrack, which they eventually attached to the first album, but the first bar has to do with weed.
Treach and I are the weed smokers of the group. Kay just sold it [laughs], but it’s always played a role in our creative process.
DJ KayGee: I couldn’t get high on my own supply.
High Times: Did you sell it to Vin and Treach?
DJ KayGee: Absolutely [laughs]. But then it got to the point where I started giving it to them.
Vin Rock: I remember at one point when I was selling, I used to pick up from Kay and then sell our weed in the park and stuff like that. So Kay was the plug back in the day.
DJ KayGee: A little bit of weed never hurt anybody. It’s legal now, but it never hurt anybody.
High Times: Creatively, how did it help you?
Vin Rock: Definitely when you’re performing. You relax, you get in the mood. The combination of weed and some alcohol is all we ever did. It just sets the tone for you to go out and rock the crowd.
Even in the creative process, you could be sober writing rhymes, writing lyrics, coming up with ideas—and then when you want to relax a little more and you blaze a little bit—it gives you a different mindset and you’ll think of things you didn’t necessarily think of when you were sober. After you sober up, you can go back to the material you developed when you were fucking blazed up. It’s a good balance. You come up with what you need to record.