On June 9, NJ Cannabis Insider hosts the Garden State’s first-ever cannabis awards gala, celebrating the individuals and companies that helped shape the industry. The formal affair at the Carteret Performing Arts Center will be unlike anything seen before in New Jersey’s cannabis space. A Who’s Who of established and up-and-coming cast of power players will come together for one night to recognize excellence and achievements in the space over the last 12 months.
While winners in eight categories will be revealed on the evening of the gala, we are announcing the Publisher’s Choice awards in advance. Today, we put a spotlight on the inaugural winner of the the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award: Bill Caruso.
Bill Caruso’s vast influence on cannabis law and policy was built on years of working behind the scenes and then on the frontlines of medicinal cannabis and later adult-use legalization.
Caruso chairs the cannabis group for Archer & Greiner, P.C. and serves as managing director of Archer Public Affairs. He is general counsel for the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. He is also a co-founder of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, a group that laid the groundwork for the legalization movement. And he was a leader with the advocacy group, NJ CAN 2020, that spearheaded the November 2020 ballot initiative to legalize cannabis for personal use.
His political experience as executive director of the New Jersey Assembly Majority Office and Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Andrews.
Caruso learned about the benefits of marijuana as medicine as a 22-year-old staffer in Andrews’ office. Like most lawmakers 25-plus years ago, Andrew opposed it.
But that changed after Caruso and Andrews met Jim and Cheryl Miller. They had been going from congressional office to congressional office in Washington, with Jim wheeling a gurney with his wife, who had multiple sclerosis and used marijuana to ease her pain.
The Millers didn’t have an appointment but demanded a meeting with Andrews. Andrews overheard Jim Miller’s irate response and welcomed the couple into his office. Caruso said he and Andrews met with the Millers for 45 minutes, ignoring a vote on the House floor.
”He sat intent and watched the love of this family,” Caruso said, referring to Andrews. “We were in tears at the end. He said, ‘I’ve been wrong about this. I’m changing my position.’” It was, Caruso said in a 2020 interview with NJ Cannabis Insider, “a moment in my life that changed my whole view of everything.”
In 2008, Caruso left Washington and moved to Trenton to work for the state Assembly Democratic majority as executive director, where he helped draft legislation to legalize cannabis for medical use.
Although he left government service for the Archer job in 2013, Caruso remains an informal adviser to lawmakers and policymakers as they crafted the legislation Gov. Phil Murphy signed in 2021 that legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older.
The Rutgers-Camden Law School graduate was named one of the 21 people to watch in the New Jersey cannabis space in 2021 by NJ Cannabis Insider, and a Cannabis Law Trailblazer by The National Law Journal in 2019.
Additional 2022 Publisher’s Choice award winners:
- Ambassador of the Year: Edmund Deveaux
- Community Game Changer of the Year: Jessica F. Gonzalez
- Excellence in Education: Rob Mejia
Enrique Lavin is publisher and editor of NJ Cannabis Insider, a weekly subscriber-based online trade journal and events group produced by NJ Advance Media, which also publishes NJ.com, The Star-Ledger and other affiliated papers. Follow him on LinkedIn.