IRVINGTON, 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 East Orange Mayor Ted Green, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, state Sens. Ron Rice and Nia Gill, and Dianna Houenou of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.
Rice used the event to pick up right where he left off at the community meeting on marijuana legalization he had hosted at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Irvington on Wednesday, Oct. 3, saying there are many moral, legal, ethical and economic challenges to overcome before marijuana can be made legal.
“I’m not against, and many of my colleagues are not against, decriminalization of recreational marijuana. There’s a difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The medical side, we can fix. It’s the recreational side,” said Rice on Saturday, Oct. 27. “If you spend your lives in communities like Newark and you watch the transition to where we are now in some cities, including (Green’s), there are real problems. (DeLuca’s) town borders mine. I can assure you, if we legalize recreational without doing the kinds of things that we’re supposed to be doing, the folks in (DeLuca’s) town, when they hit my town, there’s going to be folks getting violently assaulted and killed. That stuff is happening right now.”
“If we decide to legalize stuff and we’re talking about the commercial side of it, where they’re selling gummies, cupcakes and things, those folks are going to be robbed, stuck up, beat up for their money and their product and that’s real. It’s happening now,” said Rice. “Look at that, because this is the kind of conversation that we’re not having. My argument, especially with the Legislature, is that look, if you want to bring the money people in, because that’s what they’ve been doing, the black legislators and white legislators, and talk about money — who going to make taxes, who’s going to make the money — you can have that conversation, but there should a separate conversation, based on what we know. Where they legalized it, what we know about New Jersey that’s not legalized and put all that together, to take an objective look at it.”
According to published reports, state Sen. Nick 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.
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.”
Although Irvington was not represented at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP’s forum on Saturday, Oct. 27, Irvington NAACP President Merrick Harris did attend Rice’s community meeting at Solid Rock Baptist Church on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Prior to that, he did go on record opposing marijuana legalization in New Jersey.
“I believe marijuana should not be legalized, especially in our community. We’ve got a lot of things going on with drug use,” said Harris on Sunday, Sept. 30. “I think legalizing marijuana might contribute to a drug issue in our state. We’ll see. We may see auto accidents going up and different things like that. That’s not going to help us. That’s not going to help the community.”
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,” said Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear 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, 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.”