EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is hosting a two-day business and networking conference March 9-10, featuring some of the state’s most prominent industry leaders. Tickets are limited.

The makeup of a recently appointed commission that will establish rules and regulations for New Jersey’s marijuana industry is coming under fire from the state NAACP for failing to include as members a Black man and someone directly connected to a group that fights racial injustice.

Gov. Phil Murphy last week announced his final appointees to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. But among five commissioners and an executive director, the commission includes a Black woman but no Black men, nor a representative the NAACP says clearly meets a statutory requirement.

“The NAACP is very concerned because we have been at the forefront for marijuana legalization and decriminalization since the beginning,” said Richard Smith, president of the state NAACP conference.

He noted that the original legalization bill did not include outright social justice provisions. “We have fought to ensure that broad social justice aspects were going to be the part of this.”

The NAACP sent a letter outlining its concerns to a member of Murphy’s administration Monday. It requests “all documents that identify the qualifications of the member or members of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission that qualify for the position.”

The marijuana legalization law mandates that the commission must include at least one person who is a “state representative of a national organization or State branch of a national organization with a stated mission of studying, advocating, or adjudicating against minority historical oppression, past and present discrimination, unemployment, poverty and income inequality, and other forms of social injustice or inequality.”

“It is not clear to me that any appointed member of the commission meets this mandatory requirement,” the NAACP letter, obtained by NJ Advance Media, states.

The commission includes executive director Jeff Brown, who currently oversees the medical marijuana division of the state Department of Health; chair Houenou, formerly of the ACLU-NJ and most recently of Murphy’s administration; Maria Del Cid, the director of the Office of Policy and Legislative Services at the state Department of Health; William Wallace of the United Food and Commercial Workers; Krista Nash, a social worker; and Sam Delgado, a former Verizon executive and Marine.

Houenou’s experience most closely fits the description of being with a group that fights racial injustice, but she no longer works for the ACLU.

Murphy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from the NAACP. An administration source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said last week that Houenou met the criteria because she previously worked for the ACLU.

The NAACP took issue with the appointees announced last week. Dianna Houenou, the commission’s chair, is the only Black person on the panel. But Black people — particularly Black men — have been disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses for decades.

“We can be arrested for it, our lives can be ruined by it, and yet it doesn’t appear that we’re good enough to be on the commission,” said Smith.

Legal marijuana sales cannot start until the commission establishes rules and regulations to guide licensing, tax revenue allocation and other aspects of the new marijuana industry. The law gives the commission lots of autonomy in its regulations, and having a seat at the table would give the NAACP a more powerful voice as legalization unfolds.

Rev. Charles Boyer, who heads the criminal justice reform group Salvation and Social Justice and has advocated for racial justice provisions in marijuana legalization, said he has concerns that a lack of Black men on the board will lead to less

“It was really aggravating. We had suggested to all of them that Black men should be on the commission,” Boyer said. “And not one of them put a Black man.”

“Black people as a whole have the least amount of representation of any group on the board. Which is outrageous, because Black people by far are the most targeted,” he said.

Smith said the NAACP had worked along with the ACLU-NJ and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform to ensure the statutory requirement for a representative from a social justice organization made it into the law.

While the NAACP is happy Houenou will chair the commission, its leaders believe another appointee should be made to meet the requirement. They do not want to see Houenou removed.

Smith said he hopes to talk with Murphy and legislative leadership about ways to fix the issue. But if they do not receive a response, they may pursue further action.

The commission was fully appointed last week, just after Murphy signed laws to launch the legal marijuana industry and end arrests for possession. The appointments could have been made more than a year ago under a law expanding the medical marijuana program and calling for the establishment of such a commission. But final appointments weren’t made until last week.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.

Amanda Hoover may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj.