Although Orange doesn’t attend forum, marijuana legalization still a hot topic

Photo by Chris Sykes
Scientist and pro cannabis legalization activist and advocate Gaetano Lardieri, second from left, stands with, from left, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, East Orange Mayor Ted Green and Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear on a flight of stairs on Saturday, Oct. 27, during the local civil rights group’s Cannabis Education Forum at Bloomfield College. Sandra King of the ‘Due Process’ TV show moderated the forum and Green and DeLuca were panelists, along with state Sen. Ron Rice, state Sen. Nia Gill, attorney Raymond Brown and Dianna Houenou of the NJ ACLU.

ORANGE, NJ — Orange was not represented at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP Cannabis Education Forum in College Hall at Bloomfield College on Saturday, Oct. 27, because North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason had already hosted her own marijuana legalization community meeting at St. Matthew AME Church on Oakwood Avenue on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

“I hosted a meeting on marijuana legalization,” said Eason on Monday, Oct. 22, at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP Board of Education Candidates Night Forum at St. Matthew AME Church. “Sen. Ron Rice was there and he did a great presentation on what marijuana legalization might mean for cities and communities like Orange. He had a lot of information and handouts. The problem was people didn’t come out to the meeting to get it.”

Eason said it’s always a challenge to get community stakeholders to participate in events such as hers, but she said it would not deter her efforts.

“Legalizing marijuana is a big issue. That’s why it’s taking so long to do and the Legislature didn’t vote on anything by their Oct. 29 deadline,” said Eason on Monday, Nov. 5. “We probably will do another forum. I’m against marijuana legalization because, if you ever saw a kid coming to school high and realize that he can’t function, then you would be against it. There’s a lot more to it than just making it OK for recreational use.”

Eason said she agrees with Rice regarding not legalizing marijuana, although she didn’t attend the forum at Bloomfield College where Rice served on a panel with East Orange Mayor Ted Green, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, fellow state Sen. Nia Gill and Dianna Houenou of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.

“It was very informative,” said Eason. “The senator shared a lot of information.”

Rice has been making the rounds throughout the communities he represents, spreading the same message. In addition to the two events, he hosted a community meeting on marijuana legalization at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Irvington on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

According to Rice, there are many challenges that need to be overcome before marijuana can be legalized for medical and recreational use in New Jersey.

“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 his 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’s 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. Nicholas 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 its 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 and the deadline came and went without any significant action being taken on Scutari’s combined bill.