BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Oranges-Maplewood NAACP hosted a Cannabis Education Forum in College Hall at Bloomfield College on Saturday, Oct. 27, featuring a panel discussion with Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, East Orange Mayor Ted Green, state Sens. Ron Rice and Nia Gill, and Dianna Houenou of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.
Sandra King, of Rutgers University, the 25-time Emmy Award-winner who produces and hosts the NJTV show “Due Process,” served as the panel moderator. She had her hands full, posing questions about the challenges of cannabis legalization that the state Assembly and state Senate are currently considering, including: the difference between medical marijuana use and recreational use; the ramifications of cannabis decriminalization; addressing social justice issues in black and minority communities; whether to expunge the criminal records of those with prior convictions related to marijuana offenses; how the state and municipalities would license and regulate approved cannabis distribution sites and businesses, and where those businesses should be allowed to operate; how legalization would impact the current penal codes; and how legalization by New Jersey could be impacted by federal laws that still have cannabis listed as a Schedule 1 drug, illegal to produce, distribute or consume.
Nevertheless, some U.S. states have legalized marijuana for personal, recreational or medical use. And now state lawmakers are considering adding New Jersey to that list of states.
“I think it went very well. The disappointing thing was that the number of people, as far as the citizens were concerned, was small,” Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear told the News-Record at the event about the attendance. “I think it was very informative. I learned a lot, even though I thought I knew a lot about the proposed legislation. Some of the things that Sen. Gill or even Sen. Rice brought up I did not know and need to be investigated, in order to move forward.”
Puryear said the forum helped him gain a better understanding of the legislative challenges involved with cannabis legalization in New Jersey that legislators such as Rice and Gill are struggling to reconcile.
“What I asked one of the presenters afterward was: Why have we not learned from the history of Prohibition and alcohol?” asked Puryear. “Our country went through this with Prohibition and alcohol. Why have we not been able to learn about that transition from alcohol to legal from illegal, the same thing with cannabis; why can’t we make it from illegal to legal?”
Puryear said he now understands cannabis legalization in New Jersey is not going to be as smooth as the repeal of Prohibition. The debate here revolves around the pending marijuana legalization legislation from state Sen. Nick Scutari, making its way through the state Legislature, which would directly impact municipalities across the state.
According to published reports, 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 21 or older. Scutari’s bill calls for 218 total marijuana dispensaries — 120 of them recreational and 98 medical.
Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers tentatively set Monday, Oct. 29, as the day the state Legislature should pass a bill legalizing marijuana in New Jersey. However, Democratic legislators have reportedly been asking for a 12-percent tax on recreational marijuana and the Oct. 29 deadline came and went without any significant action being taken on Scutari’s combined bill.
Puryear said, based on what he heard at the forum, delaying the vote on Scutari’s bill was the right thing to do.
“It would appear that there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the legislation itself, in order to make it positive, so I’m optimistic. In my mind, because of what I heard this afternoon, a Cannabis Education Forum Part 2 is almost necessary, at some point in time, especially when the legislation has been presented before the Legislature,” Puryear said. “From what I heard from both senators, it’s almost a given that the Oct. 29 deadline will be pushed back. The disparity study is a concern. The impact zones that Sen. Gill talked about, which is something I had no idea about, those are some of the things that need to be addressed. So when you say Oct. 29, there’s nothing magical about October. They have plenty of time to pass it, even into 2019.”
DeLuca said he believes cannabis legalization in New Jersey will happen soon.
“I think it’s going to pass,” said DeLuca at the forum, adding though that he is not sure it will pass via Scutari’s bill. “I think if it doesn’t move fairly quickly though, you’ll see the Assembly balk at this next year, because they’re up for re-election.”
Green said he favors cannabis legalization, despite the reservations Rice expressed about it and the legislative difficulties Gill said must be resolved before it is put to a vote by state officials. He agreed with DeLuca that legalization is inevitable for economic and social justice reasons.
“All of it has to make sense,” Green said at the forum. “Whatever bill goes into place, it has to make sense to my community. It has to make sense to the 65,000 residents that I represent, each and every day. It has to make sense in a way that we don’t want other things to fail, even though there’s potentially money coming in. It has to make sense across the board, for us to endorse this.”