IRVINGTON, NJ — State Sen. Ron Rice Sr. hosted a community forum at Solid Rock Baptist Church, 644 Chancellor Ave., Irvington, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, to discuss the potential impact of pending marijuana legalization legislation from fellow Sen. Nick Scutari that is making its way through the state Legislature.
Scutari is the driving force behind a combined marijuana legalization bill that would facilitate the expansion of medical marijuana use and access, and fully legalize marijuana for adults older than 21. Scutari’s bill calls for 218 total marijuana dispensaries — 120 recreational and 98 medical.
Scutari’s bill would allow municipalities to ban a dispensary from opening within their borders, but the local governing body would have to pass an ordinance to do this within 180 days of the law’s enactment; would allow the 7-percent sales tax on medicinal cannabis to be phased out within three years; would allow a dispensary to create a separate “retail marijuana consumption area” on the premises; and would stipulate that a positive drug test cannot be used as the basis to deny a person medical care, housing or a job “unless failing to do so would put the school, employer or landlord in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding.” Scutari also reportedly introduced another bill that only deals with making recreational marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers tentatively set Monday, Oct 29, as the deadline for the state Legislature to pass a bill legalizing marijuana in New Jersey; however, Democratic legislators have reportedly been asking for a 12-percent tax on recreational marijuana.
Rice said he hosted the community forum at Solid Rock Baptist Church to inform his constituents about the pending legislation. In the audience at the church that night were Irvington Democratic Committee Chairwoman Baseemah Beasley, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, South Ward Councilwoman Sandy Jones, West Ward Councilman Vern Cox and other local leaders.
“First of all, you shouldn’t do this. If you’re going to pass a bill like this, that’s going to really be problematic. Longterm, you should at least put it on a referendum and let them vote on it statewide,” said Rice on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “They told us they weren’t going to put it on a referendum. I said: ‘Why not?’ They said: ‘Because if we put it on a referendum, it won’t pass.’ I said: ‘Well, that should tell you something right there.’”
Rice said he opposes legalizing marijuana because he believes legalization would not benefit his constituents in the municipalities he represents, particularly mostly minority urban areas such as Irvington, East Orange, Orange and Newark. He also said he opposes it because of the undemocratic way it’s being introduced by legislators without the support of voters, even though the combined bill being considered in the Legislature would require individual municipal governments to vote on whether they want to allow marijuana dispensaries to open.
“The same thing for these townships. If these townships start to come up or the county wants to pass stuff, you should mandate that they don’t do it if you’re against it but, if anything, you should mandate that it be on a referendum in your town,” Rice said. “I guarantee, with a referendum, you’re going to see a lot of money coming in from George Soros and them, and a lot of folks on the street trying to push this stuff. But you’re going to see homeowners have a lot more sense than that. … Don’t tell me to give you the money to build something, if you’re going to do harm to our neighborhoods.”
South Ward District Leader James Eaddy, a member of the Sheridan Street Block Association, disagreed with Rice.
“I completely understand where you’re coming from sir, because it is scary. The future is scary, not knowing how things are going, not knowing how things are going to pan out,” said Eaddy on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “But we have been living in the opposite for the last 30-something years. When I was born, Irvington was a different place. Irvington was a lot more suburban. It was affluent. As soon as Reagan passed the drug laws during the late 1980s, early 1990s, it was instantaneous, this place transformed and so I really do get that you want to look out for our futures, but this can as well be one of the ways to do that.”
Eaddy said he believes legalizing marijuana could be beneficial for the economic redevelopment of municipalities such as Irvington. However, Jones, Cox and others said they preferred to take a wait-and-see attitude about the ongoing marijuana legalization debate in the Legislature.
“You know where I work. I work with ex-offenders. They’re trying to get expungements, because some of them have been arrested for drugs. How does this work for them?” asked Jones on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “In 1960, everybody smoked weed, they did whatever. Here it is, 2018; everybody’s in jail for drugs, but then they go beyond drugs — they shoot somebody or whatever. It’s scary, so I am trying to figure out how this expungement is going to work, because if you’re expunged and you decide to smoke a joint and you have to take a urine test, what are you going to say?”
Cox is currently chairman of the council’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, which is cracking down on what he says are an inordinate number of strip bars and go-go bars in town. But he agreed with Jones that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about marijuana legalization, before he would potentially vote on any local legislation linked to the Scutari bill, if it passes the Legislature.
“I’m not against strip clubs, because that’s a form of adult entertainment. Legal, as a matter of fact. It’s just that I’m against unregulated strip clubs,” said Cox on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “Here’s where I stand on everything. If marijuana legalization is going to have a corrosive effect on society, then we need to take another look at it. If it’s about the rich people getting richer on the backs of certain communities, then we need to take a look at it. If we’re talking about addiction problems in the United States — that’s at an all-time high, right? — maybe we need to take a look at this whole concept. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying one way or the other, because to me, I’m still in a wait-and-see investigative mode about the whole issue.”
The Rev. Reginald Pitts of Solid Rock Baptist Church said he decided to host Rice’s community forum precisely because he wanted to facilitate an exchange of ideas on the subject.
“We just had a forum with Sen. Ron Rice on the pros and cons of legalization of marijuana,” said Pitts on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “Basically we held this forum, because we would love for people to get information, as it relates to the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. So whether or not you are for it or against it, you need to have some information from both sides of the aisle, whether it’s money or whether it’s how it’s going to impact our community. So we was hoping that Sen. Rice was able to give us some information, as it relates to how it would impact our community, not just the economic side of it. I think it went well. He did his job and we believe information was given out to help the community make an informed decision.”